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We're officially a month into spring, and if you've been enjoying the warmer weather and blooming flowers you may also be dealing with all the classic signs of spring allergies: sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes. But many of these symptoms are shared by other common spring ailments, like sinusitis and the common cold. How can you tell which is which? Read on for a guide
Allergy symptoms appear when the immune system reacts to a substance that has entered the body as though it was harmful. The immune system will produce special antibodies capable of recognizing the same allergic substance if it enters the body at a later time.
When an allergen reenters the body, the immune system rapidly recognizes it causing a series of reactions. These reactions often involve tissue destruction, blood vessel dilation, and production of many inflammatory substances including histamine. Histamine produces the common allergy symptoms we're all familiar with, from nasal and sinus congestion to itchy, watery eyes.
For some allergy sufferers, symptoms may be seasonal, but for others, it is a year round discomfort. Allergy symptom control is most successful when multiple management approaches are used simultaneously. They may include: minimizing exposure to allergens, desensitization with allergy shots, and medications.
Medications including antihistamines, nasal decongestant sprays, steroid sprays, saline sprays, and cortisone type preparations, can be helpful. Though some can cause drowsiness, some over-the-counter drugs may be beneficial.
If you have severe allergy problems and they interfere with your life, you may want to make an appointment with an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat specialist). They will offer advice on proper environmental control and evaluate the sinuses to determine if an infection or structural abnormality is contributing to the symptoms. In some cases, immunotherapy or allergy shots may even be recommended.
We usually associate colds with their peak season in winter, but they're still common in spring. The common cold is a virus (with over 200 variants!) that infects the upper respiratory tract, and it tends to follow a set pattern:
Acute bacterial sinusitis is an infection of the sinus cavities caused by bacteria. It usually is preceded by a cold, allergy attack, or irritation by environmental pollutants. Unlike a cold or allergy, bacterial sinusitis requires a physician's diagnosis and treatment with an antibiotic to cure the infection and prevent future complications.
Normally, mucus collecting in the sinuses drain into the nasal passages. When you have a cold or allergy flare-up, your sinuses become inflamed and are unable to drain. This can lead to congestion and infection.
When you have frequent sinusitis, or the infection lasts 3 months or more, it could be chronic sinusitis. Symptoms of chronic sinusitis may be less severe than those of acute; however, left untreated chronic sinusitis can cause damage to the sinuses and cheekbones that can sometimes require surgery to repair.
Functional endoscopic sinus surgery is recommended for certain types of sinus disease. With the endoscope, the surgeon can look directly into the nose, while at the same time, removing any diseased tissue and polyps, and clear the narrow channels between the sinuses.
How can you tell if your symptoms belong to sinusitis, a cold, or just allergies? Let's break them down below:
Whether you have allergies, sinusitis, or a cold, it's always best to be medically evaluated, therefore you have a better knowledge of what treatment or medication would be best for you. Be sure to contact your doctor or other qualified health care professional before taking any medication, supplements, or starting a new health regimen.