Today's Medicine

Is It Allergies or Something More?

“Oh, it’s just allergies,” is what most people will tell themselves, and as a physician, I definitely see a lot of patients suffering from allergies. But I also see many who are suffering from something more – sinusitis.

It can be difficult for patients to know whether they’re suffering from one or the other, and it can be frustrating when those patients try treating their symptoms and don’t get the relief they hope for.

What are allergies? 

An allergy is a condition in which the body’s immune system reacts to a substance it recognizes as harmful or foreign. Allergies are very common. They can be seasonal or year-round. Symptoms can be triggered by contact with grass, tree pollen, mold, animal dander and many other common things. 

Allergy symptoms include: 

  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion

How are allergies treated?

Treatment for allergies varies and is dependent on the individual. Antihistamines, oral or nasal steroids or simply making an effort to avoid allergy triggers can help keep symptoms at bay.

Self-diagnosis of allergies is common among many people, and that’s OK in most cases.

For example, if you have a history of allergies and you know what tends to trigger your symptoms, it’s perfectly acceptable to try an over-the-counter treatment. Your health care provider, however, can provide you with guidance on when and how to use it. If your symptoms get worse or don’t go away, it’s always best to consult your provider.


What is sinusitis?

Sinusitis is another name for sinus infection. It is inflammation or swelling in the spaces or cavities in the skull, also known as sinuses (located behind the cheeks and above the eyes). Sinusitis can be caused by bacteria, fungus, or irritants in the environment. It can also be triggered by allergies, and it is common for patients who have sinusitis to have allergies and vice versa.

Sinusitis symptoms include:

  • Runny nose (usually accompanied by thick, green or yellow drainage)
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Facial pain or pressure
  • Tooth pain or pressure
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue

How is sinusitis treated?

Depending on how long a patient has been experiencing symptoms, a nasal spray or an antibiotic may be necessary. Saline irrigations can be very effective in reducing symptoms and the duration of sinus infections when used in combination with other medications.

If symptoms continue for several months, even with prescribed treatment, special imaging may be needed for your physician to determine exactly where and what the issue is.


Living comfortably

Again, it’s OK to use your own judgement regarding what treatment is best. Keep in mind, though, that you don’t have to “just deal with it.”

It’s supposed to be easy to breathe through your nose. You’re not supposed to constantly fight the urge to sneeze. Bottom line, your Methodist Physicians Clinic health care provider is there to make your life more comfortable and help you feel well.

If you are suffering from any of the above symptoms and would like to schedule an appointment, contact your provider.

About the Author

Dr. Brian Gartrell always knew he wanted to serve others. During the time he spent with physicians in his hometown of Columbus, Nebraska, it became increasingly clear to him that medicine was where he belonged. Board-certified in family medicine and otolaryngology, he has interests in several ENT-related issues such as hearing loss, nasal congestion and skin lesions.

Dr. Brian Gartrell is a family medicine doctor at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

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