Congestion, difficulty breathing, facial pain, and fatigue are all signs that allergy season is upon us...or so we think. For many Canadians, these symptoms indicate sinusitis rather than allergies.
Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinuses that affects approximately five per cent of Canadians. It is more prevalent than heart disease and asthma, has a greater impact on quality of life than chronic back pain or congestive heart failure and can be quite debilitating.
Differentiating between sinusitis and allergies can be difficult, but a visit to a doctor can lead to a diagnosis and proper treatment.
The following will help you tell the difference between allergies and sinusitis:
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Clear or whitish nasal drip
- Itchy, watery eyes
- A burning sensation in the eyes or nose
- Facial and/or teeth pain
- Tenderness and swelling around the eyes, cheeks, nose, and forehead
- Sinus pressure or congestion
- Difficulty breathing through the nose
- Loss of the sense of smell or taste
- Sinus headache
Sinusitis is often acute, but if symptoms last longer than 8-12 weeks it could be chronic. While medication may help some Canadians relieve their symptoms, it offers no relief for approximately 60 per cent of chronic sinusitis sufferers.
The good news? A primary care doctor or Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist can help. If you have chronic sinusitis and you don't respond to medication there are some procedures that you may be a candidate for. One of these procedures is called Balloon Sinuplasty (BSP). BSP is a short procedure that uses innovative technology and is performed at an outpatient surgical centre as opposed to in a hospital. It provides long-term relief from sinus symptoms and significantly improves quality of life.
One of my patients has suffered from chronic sinusitis as long as she can remember, with symptoms including facial pain and tenderness, headaches, difficulty breathing, and sleep disturbances. After many unsuccessful treatments, she underwent BSP which has made a tremendous impact on her life. I'm pleased to say that she has been clear of the majority of her sinusitis symptoms since the procedure.
- It is performed in an outpatient surgical facility and in selected cases can be done under local anesthetic
- A catheter-based balloon is guided into one or several sinuses and the balloon is dilated to widen the sinus cavity and allow for better sinus drainage and function
- Procedure time ranges from ten to 45 minutes
- Patients experience minimal bleeding and low post-operative pain and can return to normal activities quickly
At least 25 per cent of people suffer from seasonal allergies, says Dr. Susan Waserman, allergist and clinical immunologist of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont,. People of any age can suddenly develop allergies. "Many children grow up with allergies and other people get them as adults."
Where you live can also affect your allergies, Waserman says. People who live in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba for example have more exposure to ragweed than people who live out West.
If you or your partner have sneezathons during spring months, don't be surprised if your kids have similar symptoms. "In order to become allergic you need genetics and exposure in the environment," Waserman says.
A common myth people have about spring allergies is that allergens like ragweed and tree pollen all appear during the same months. Waserman says tree pollen appears anytime between the end of March to early June, while grass allergens appear between the mid-May and mid-July, and ragweed allergens appear mid-August to the first frost.
Outdoor moulds, mildew and even your pet can cause springtime allergies, Waserman says.
Sometimes your cold symptoms can actually be an allergy. "The mistake people make is that they think it's just a cold — but these symptoms can go on for months," Waserman says. If you're having a hard time distinguishing between the two, remember this: allergies don't have fevers or greenish nasal discharge.
"People tend to trivialize hay fever and asthma as just an allergy and not a big deal," Waserman says. These conditions, she says, can get serious over time if they are ignored. Always consult your allergist or doctor if you believe you're experiencing asthma or hay fever.
For the most part, you can't "cure" your allergies, but there are small ways to avoid them. If you're allergic to grass or pollen, keep your windows shut and turn on the air conditioning, Waserman says. Think about it this way: it's a good excuse to not mow the lawn.
Sometimes, it could be your bed. "Dust mites are not airborne, but some people have increase symptoms this time of the year," Waserman says. These dust mites usually settle in your bedding or mattresses.
If your allergies don't seem to go away on their own or if you're tired of using different over-the-counter products, visit an allergist to take an allergy test and find out exactly what you're allergic to.