If you've ever experienced the frustrating and uncomfortable symptoms of allergies, you know just how disruptive they can be to your daily life. Sneezing, itchy eyes, congestion, runny nose — the list goes on. But did you know that allergies can sometimes lead to sinus infections?
At Memorial Village Sinus and Hearing in Houston, Texas, we see plenty of cases of sinusitis that can be tied to allergies. In this blog, ENT specialist Dr. Conrad McCutcheon explores the connection and what you can do to prevent sinus infections.
Understanding the link between allergies and sinus infections
Allergies and sinus infections are two distinct conditions, but they’re closely related. Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to allergens, such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or certain foods. This overreaction triggers a cascade of symptoms, such as nasal congestion, sneezing, and a runny nose.
Now, here's where things get interesting. When you have allergies, your nasal passages can become inflamed and produce excess mucus as your body tries to flush out the allergens. If the mucus becomes trapped in a sinus, it may create a prime environment for pathologic bacteria to thrive in. If these bacteria multiply, it can lead to a sinus infection.
How to know if your allergies have contributed to a sinus infection
So, how can you tell if your allergies have progressed to a sinus infection? The symptoms are similar, but there are some key differences to watch for:
Duration of symptoms
Allergy symptoms typically come and go with exposure to allergens. For example, you may notice that your allergies flare up during a specific season, when you’re in a dusty room, or if you’re around pets — and you start to feel better when you leave that environment.
Sinus infection symptoms come on quickly and persist for longer, often lasting more than 10 days. In some cases, sinus infections can become chronic and persist for months or years.
Color of discharge
Nasal congestion is a symptom of both allergies and sinus infections. Allergy-related nasal discharge is usually clear, while a sinus infection may cause yellow or green mucus.
Pain and pressure
Sinus infections often bring facial pain and pressure, particularly around your cheeks, forehead, and eyes. These symptoms are less common with allergies.
A low-grade fever is more common with sinus infections, as your body fights off the infection. Allergies typically don’t cause fevers.
Stopping the allergy-infection cycle
Now that you understand the connection between allergies and sinus infections, it's crucial to know how to manage your allergies effectively to help reduce the chance that they’ll trigger a sinus infection.
At Memorial Village Sinus and Hearing, Dr. McCutcheon starts your allergy management with an exam that includes nasal endoscopy, a review of your symptoms, and often a CT (cat) scan to look for evidence of infection or structural abnormalities. Provided that there is no evidence of infection or structural abnormalities, allergy testing may be performed to pinpoint your specific allergens.
Your allergy treatment plan will likely include oral or nasal antihistamines (Levocetirizine, Fexofenadine, Astepro), nasal steroid sprays (Nasonex, Xhance, Flonase), hypertonic saline rinses, and lifestyle changes if indicated.
Once your specific allergens have been pinpointed, recommendations will be made to reduce your exposure. This may include keeping your home clean using HEPA air filters and avoiding outdoor activities during high pollen seasons. If you do spend time outside, irrigate your nose with hypertonic saline, change clothes and shower afterward to remove allergen particles from your hair.
Practice good hygiene
Washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your face helps prevent the spread of bacteria that can lead to sinus infections.
Drinking plenty of fluids, mainly water, at least 2 liters (2 quarts) daily keeps mucus thin and flowing to help reduce the risk of infection.
Get prompt treatment
If you suspect a sinus infection, don't hesitate to seek medical attention. Our team at Memorial Village Sinus and Hearing not only helps you manage your allergies, but can also prescribe the right medication to clear your sinus infection.
Allergies and sinusitis often occur together and are intricately connected. By understanding this link and taking proactive steps to manage your allergies and practice good hygiene, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of developing a sinus infection.
Questions about either condition? Call us at 281-822-3777. You can also request an appointment online.