Learn something new every day
More Info... by email
Sinus allergies are a type of allergic reaction in the sinuses, which are the passages that run behind the cheeks, nose, and forehead, shown in light pink in the image to the right. Seasonal or constant environmental factors can be the cause of allergic symptoms, many of which mimic those of other conditions. In fact, many people confuse sinus allergies for a cold, sinus infection, or the flu. True prevention is typically hard, but there are ways to minimize exposure to allergens — the materials that cause allergic reactions. Additionally, there are natural, medication-based, and surgical treatments for sinus allergies.
Sinus allergies are caused by allergens getting into the nose and sinus cavities. Allergens that commonly lead to sinus allergies include the following:
Inhaling these allergens leads to two results: an increased production of mucus, and the release of a compound called histamine. Though nasal mucus usually easily drains out of the nose, the increase in mucus makes it hard for the nose to drain properly. The release of histamine, which causes the nasal and sinus passages to swell up, only inhibits drainage further.
Unable to drain out, mucus will start backing up in the nose, which leads to two common symptoms: a stuffy feeling and a runny nose. Histamine also causes an itchy feeling, which is why many people with sinus allergies have itchy noses and eyes, and a tickle in the throat. The amount of allergen that it takes to start this process varies among people.
Though some allergens are always around, others are seasonal. The most common spring allergen is tree pollen, while the most common summer and fall allergens are grass pollen, ragweed, and mold. Allergens like dust and pet dander are usually in the air year-round, but allergies to them can sometimes be seasonal because of the way people act differently throughout the year. For instance, somebody with a pet that spends most of its time outdoors during the summer may start to experience pet dander allergies in the winter if he or she start keeping the pet inside.
The most common sinus allergy symptoms are:
All result from the increased mucus production and narrowed nasal passages caused by inhaling allergens. They can also lead to many secondary symptoms:
Not everyone will experience all of these symptoms, but clusters of these symptoms are usually a pretty good indication of having these allergies. On the other hand, many of these symptoms mirror the symptoms of other common illnesses so it's important to know what condition is causing them to get the proper treatment:
|Sinus Allergies||Cold||Flu||Sinusitis/Sinus Infection|
|Length of time?||As long as exposed to allergen.||A week to ten days.||Around four to ten days.||From less than a month to up to three months.|
|Fever||Sometimes — low-grade.||Sometimes, but usually in children.||Often||Often|
|Aches and pains||Often — mild.||Often — mild.||Often — severe.||Sometimes.|
Unlike a cold, the flu, or sinusitis, sinus allergies are not caused by a virus or bacteria. Antibiotics and antiviral medications are therefore usually ineffective. Leave sinus allergies untreated, however, and bacteria can develop in the backed-up mucus.
Often, the best way to avoid sinus allergies is to stay away from the trigger allergen. This can be difficult, though, especially for those who are unclear as to what their trigger allergens are, who are allergic to many different things, or who are allergic to essentially unavoidable things. If the allergens are known, the best thing to do is to avoid being around them; for instance, someone who is allergic to grass pollen may want to try changing his exercise routine to be indoors, or someone who is allergic to mold may want to hire professional cleaning service to get rid of any mold in the home. If it's impossible to avoid allergens, then an allergy sufferer may want to proactively take some allergy medication before being exposed to a particular allergen.
There are five main categories of medication for preventing and treating allergies:
Another option for treating allergies is immunotherapy, or allergy shots. This is usually not a preferred treatment, since it requires regular injections and does not work for everyone. It may, however, be good for those who cannot avoid their allergen triggers or those who can't take other types of medication.
It's important to discuss all medications with a medical professional before taking them, even the over-the-counter ones. Every type of allergy medication has the potential for causing side effects and shouldn't be taken without the advice of a health care professional.
There are also a number of non-medication-based treatments for sinus allergies. Two of the most common ones are steam inhalation and saline irrigation.
Surgery is usually the last option when it comes to treating allergy problems because it is more invasive than other treatments and comes with a higher risk of complications. This type of treatment can be beneficial for those who have exhausted all other options, though. Most surgeries for sinus allergies involve making the nasal passages slightly larger, or opening up passages that have swollen shut or are abnormally small. Sinus surgery is typically done endoscopically, which means that a small instrument with a camera attached is inserted into the nasal passage to perform the surgery with as little trauma as possible.
The two main types of sinus surgery used to treat allergies are Balloon Sinuplasty® and laser sinus surgery. In Balloon Sinuplasty®, an instrument with a small, deflated balloon is threaded into swollen or small nasal passages, where the balloon is then inflated. This widens the nasal passages, and any backed up pus or mucus can be flushed out. Having wider nasal passages also helps prevent mucus from getting backed up in the future.
Laser sinus surgery is also done endoscopically, but it works differently than balloon-based surgeries. In this surgery, a doctor inserts a small instrument into the nose that burns off part of the nasal passages and also shrinks some of the underlying blood vessels that can cause inflammation if they get swollen. Though this type of surgery can be effective, it sometimes has to be done several times before it works, and can cause nosebleeds and congestion. As with all surgeries, people should consult with their doctor before deciding to have the surgery and should strictly follow any aftercare instructions.
A video illustration of the body reacting to allergies with more technical terminology:
A silent video with a good illustration of a blocked sinus and a demonstration of one type of sinus surgery:
A video on how to do a nasal irrigation with a neti pot:
Neti pots are the worst. Try the neilmed saline rinse bottles made by the same company. It’s much easier and more effective. Bend over and breathe fast or there is a chance the saline can enter your Eustachian tubes.
If your allergies cause you to eventually get infections due to bacteria multiplying in the cesspool trapped inside your nose due to your swollen tissue, go see an ENT who specializes in Balloon Sinusplasty in the office. If they can look up your nose with a scope in the office, then they can perform this treatment in the office and you can usually go back to work within 24 hours. I had it done three years ago and literally have not
had one sinus infection or one cold in three years. That is not usually the outcome, as surely people will get a cold or two in a year’s time, but I have been truly lucky and blessed and it changed my life.
Make sure they use the one with the flexible balloon. My doctor told me he uses that one because the other ones in the market don't work as well because they are rigid and often can't get through the tight spaces. To me, this treatment was better than the dentist. I only felt a little pressure.
One of our editors will review your suggestion and make changes if warranted. Note that depending on the number of suggestions we receive, this can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Thank you for helping to improve wiseGEEK!