It’s summer and you can’t stop sneezing. Since the pollen count is so high, and you’ve had similar symptoms each summer for years, you assume that your allergies are to blame. It could be, or it could be that your allergies have caused your sinus passages to swell, leading to chronic sinusitis. It can be difficult for people to tell the difference between allergies and sinusitis, but getting the right diagnosis is the first step towards getting the most appropriate treatment.
An allergic reaction occurs when a foreign substance that usually doesn’t cause any problems makes your immune system react. For example, plenty of people breathe in pollen or pet dander regularly and have no symptoms or issues. But, people who are allergic to those things have an immune response when they breathe them in.
The body produces antibodies, which go after the substance and attempt to attack it. As a result, you end up with a running nose, scratchy throat, sneezing, and a variety of other symptoms. Some people have only a mild reaction to a substance, while others can have nearly fatal reactions, such as anaphylaxsis.
Although there are a variety of allergies, such as food allergies, which occur when you eat something you are allergic to, and drug allergies, which occur when you take a medication that causes an allergic reaction, the allergies that are the most visible and common are often called hay fever. These cause rhinitis and symptoms such as sneezing, coughing and a runny nose.
Allergies and Your Sinuses
So, what do allergies have to do with your sinuses or with a sinus infection? Many people who have sinusitis often have rhinitis first, either from the common cold or from allergies. In fact, having allergies increases your risk for developing a chronic sinus infection.
There are a few reasons why hay fever increases the likelihood of a person developing sinus problems. If your nasal passages are blocked on a fairly consistent basis, bacteria can grow, leading to infection in the sinuses. Additionally, regular allergic reactions can increase the size of the turbinates.
Turbinates are long, thin bones inside the nasal passages. They are covered with tissue and help direct the flow of air through your nasal cavity. They also help humidify the air and filter it, reducing the risk of damage to your nasal passages.
Allergic reactions can cause the tissue surrounding the turbinates to swell. Usually, the swelling goes away when the trigger or infectious agent goes away. But, if the allergy is persistent, the swelling continues and it can become difficult to breathe. Enlarged turbinates can also increase the risk of developing chronic sinus infections.
What Your Treatment Options Are for Sinus Allergies
If you are experiencing the signs of sinusitis, such as chronic congestion and difficulty breathing, a reduced sense of taste or smell, and pain and swelling in the face, one of the first things your ENT or sinus doctor will likely do is test for allergies. Treating the sinus problems without determining the root of the problem will only solve part of the issue.
Typically, an allergy test involves applying a small amount of the proteins that cause allergic reactions to your skin. If you’re allergic to a substance, such as ragweed, mold or pet dander, a small bump or reaction will occur on the skin. A doctor can also determine what you’re allergic to by drawing a sample of blood and sending it to a lab for testing. It’s more common for doctors to do skin tests for allergies than blood tests. Skin tests are quicker and don’t require sending samples to labs.
Once you and your doctor have determined the source of your allergic reaction, you can discuss treatment options. Avoiding the allergen is often the first line of defense. But, since some allergens just can’t be avoided, you might benefit from immunotherapy or another type of treatment.
Immunotherapy involves receiving an injection, usually about once a week for a full year. The injection contains the allergic substance. The goal is to have your body produce enough antibodies to fight the substance that it eventually builds up immunity to the allergen. Along with reducing allergic symptoms, the goal of immunotherapy is to reduce any symptoms of sinusitis, so that you don’t need a more invasive procedure to treat your sinus symptoms.
There are instances when immunotherapy won’t help sinus symptoms related to allergies. In those cases, surgery to minimize swelling and improve airflow can be required. For example, turbinate reduction surgery might be an option for you if your nasal turbinates are chronically inflamed and swollen and you struggle to breathe.
About Dr. Rubinstein
Patients across the Hudson Valley have been turning to Dr. Rubinstein for his skills as a facial plastic surgeon for almost sixteen years. He has extensive knowledge of laser procedures, facial plastic surgery, and nasal and sinus treatments, which allow him to improve aesthetics as well as functionality of the facial features. Dr. Rubinstein received his board certifications through the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the American Board of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. If you’re tired of your allergies or think your allergies are contributing to your sinus issues, call 845-562-6673 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Rubinstein at the Hudson Valley Sinus Center.