It started as a runny nose, but it wouldn’t go away. Your nasal discharge changed from clear to thick green. You lost your sense of smell. Then came the familiar pain behind your eyes and cheekbones, and, man, does your head pound. It’s another sinus infection!
You’ve probably tried it all to relieve these painful infections… humidifiers, neti pots, warm compresses, decongestants, ibuprofen. But if you have recurring sinus infections, it’s probably time to uncover the root cause so that you can stop them from developing in the first place. And very often, the underlying problem is allergies.
Recurring sinus infections are a very common complaint among allergic patients. Sinus infections are often a sign of “sick sinuses,” which result from allergic inflammation of the sinus tissues. As long as there is inflammation there, you can expect to have ongoing sinus problems.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at sinuses, sinus infections and the role that allergies play in these infections.
What are sinuses?
Sinuses are an interconnected system of hollow cavities in the “mask” area of your skull.
What are the main symptoms of sinus infections?
Symptoms may include:
- Pain in the mask area (forehead, behind the eyes, on either side of your nose)
- Pain in the upper jaw and teeth
- Heavy nasal congestion
- Nasal discharge that is often green or yellow
- Throat irritation and cough
- Bad breath
- Decreased sense of smell
How do allergies cause sinus infections?
The sinuses produce a thin mucus that drains through the nose and is swallowed. This is normal and useful; it helps flush out any bacteria that may be building up in the nose.
Allergies, however, obstruct this normal drainage process. When the body releases chemicals as an allergic response, those chemicals cause inflammation. When the lining of the sinuses becomes inflamed, that liquid can get trapped and won’t drain properly. In the moist, dark environment of the swollen sinuses, bacteria can thrive, leading to sinus infections. If you are prone to allergic inflammation, sinus infections may become your ongoing companion.
When should I see a doctor for my sinus infections?
If your sinus infection symptoms last longer than 7-10 days, see your doctor. Though rare, a sinus infection too close to your brain can lead to serious consequences, including death.
What treatments work?
Over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines and decongestants, can help relieve the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, which often progress into a sinus infection. For developing infections, or those that are in full bloom, nasal irrigation through products such as neti pots can bring temporary relief, as can placing warm compresses on the sinuses to alleviate pain and swelling. Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics if your sinus infection isn’t going away after 7-10 days. For recurring sinus infections, talk to your doctor about how allergy treatment may be able to end your cycle of sinus infections.
How do I know if allergies are causing my sinus infections?
Recurring sinus infections may indicate underlying allergy problems. If you have other allergy symptoms (hay fever, eczema, asthma, ear infections, headache, fatigue, etc.), there’s a good chance that allergies are affecting your sinuses as well.
If allergies are contributing to your sinus problems, no amount of medication is going to stop them. Allergy immunotherapy, however, can help stop the problem. You can find out if allergy immunotherapy is right for you by asking your allergist about allergy testing.
What can I expect with allergy testing?
Allergy tests come in the form of blood tests or skin tests. The skin scratch test method is the gold standard in accuracy and gets the highest recommendations from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. With this test, a device dipped into antigen will penetrate the first layers of your skin (usually on the arm). A technician will then measure the resulting bumps that form on your arm in reaction to the antigen. It is relatively painless and doesn’t take long.
How will allergy treatment help my sinus infections?
Based on your symptoms, a physical examination and the results of your allergy test, your allergy doctor may prescribe immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is the only treatment that has been shown to alter the underlying allergy—not just its symptoms.
Immunotherapy is available through sublingual immunotherapy (allergy drops) or subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots). Allergy shots have been around longer than allergy drops, which came into use in the mid-1980s. Allergy drops are very popular in Europe; in fact, they are prescribed at least as much as shots there.
At AllergyEasy, we prescribe allergy drops, rather than shots, because:
- They are safer than shots.
- They are more convenient than shots. (Because of their higher safety profile, allergy drops can be dosed at home so patients don’t have to drive to the doctor’s office a couple of times per week.)
- They work for populations not typically serviced by allergy shots (children under 6 years old, patients with uncontrolled asthma and those who are considered “too allergic” to safely tolerate allergy injections).
What is causing my sinus-related allergy symptoms?
Allergies to dust, mold, pet dander and pollen can all trigger sinusitis. Even food allergies can cause sinus inflammation in some people. If seasonal pollens are the main culprit, you might notice that your sinus problems increase during spring or fall, which tend to be the peak seasons for pollination.
AllergyEasy provides a turnkey allergy treatment program to primary care physicians across the country, enabling them to test and treat their allergic patients in-office. Contact us to find a doctor near you or to get us in touch with your PCP so that they can help you resolve your allergies and your ongoing sinus problems.