Health Watch: Do you have seasonal allergies or sinusitis?

Ah, spring! Birds are singing, flowers are blooming, noses are running, and eyes are itching, burning and swelling. Some 40 to 50 million people in the United States suffer from nasal allergies, commonly triggered by plant pollen, airborne mold spores and animal dander. Seasonal and year-round symptoms can include chronic sinusitis, sinus infections, headaches, breathing problems, and severe insomnia and exhaustion caused by blocked nasal passages.

But how do you know if you are suffering from seasonal allergies or something more serious like sinusitis?  SLUCare otolaryngologist Dr. Joseph Brunworth says the distinction is in how often your sinus infections happen.  If you have "itchy eyes, itchy  nose, kind of like hayfever-type symptoms...sinusitis adds on top of that nasal congestion, pain and pressure in the face, discharge coming out of the nose."

If you have allergies, the passages of your nose and sinuses swell because they're trying to flush out "allergens” like mold, pollen, etc. You'll start feeling symptoms soon after you come into contact with those allergens. This often occurs during the spring or fall seasons.

Sinusitis usually happens after you've had a cold or allergies (often in winter months). But certain symptoms will keep going, even after your cold goes away. You'll probably have a stuffy nose and cough for more than a week or two. If your symptoms last less than 4 weeks, it's acute. If they go on for 3 months or longer, you have chronic sinusitis.

Treatment for sinusitis may include a decongestant, antibiotics, vaporizer, warm compress, nasal sprays and/or drops.  In cases where OTC methods don’t help your allergies or the sinusitis is caused by a deviated septum, polyps or a structural issue, surgery may be necessary to find effective, long-term relief:

* Endoscopy – inserting very thin and flexible instruments (endoscopes) into your nose. One instrument has a small camera lens that sends images back to a screen, allowing the doctor to see where the sinuses are blocked and remove polyps, scar tissue, etc.

* Balloon sinuplasty – good option if nothing needs to be removed. The doctor puts a thin tube into your nose with a small balloon attached. She then guides the balloon to the blocked area inside your nose and inflates it. This helps clear the passageway so your sinuses can drain better and you won’t be so congested.

There are prescription and over-the-counter treatments for both; however, sinus surgery can be extremely effective at eliminating sinus infections cause by allergies or sinusitis by opening up the passageways to drain the sinuses before an infection develops.

SLUCare ENTs can help identify which condition you're battling and the best treatment for long-term relief.  To learn more, click here.

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