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Is Your Discomfort Caused by Allergies or Chronic Sinusitis?

Is Your Discomfort Caused by Allergies or Chronic Sinusitis?


Have you experienced coughing, sneezing, and itchy or running nose and eyes during certain times of the year? If so, you may suffer from seasonal allergies. Chronic sinusitis, however, is a more serious condition and is oftentimes mistaken by patients for seasonal allergies. Symptoms of sinusitis include stuffy nose, sinus pain, fatigue, and reduced sense of smell and taste. 

We spoke with Christopher Brook, MD, otolaryngologist at Boston Medical Center, and sinus and allergy specialist, to find out more about seasonal allergies, chronic sinusitis, and the treatments available to help relieve your sinus symptoms.

Q: What causes seasonal allergies?

A: When your immune system misinterprets benign substances, like grass, pollen or mold, as an intruder, seasonal allergies and their symptoms occur. Spring allergies in the United States can begin as early as February and last until early summer. Many factors contribute to allergy season patterns and can influence the severity of symptoms. For example, mold grows faster in heat and humidity, pollen levels peak in the morning hours, rain will initially wash pollen away, but pollen counts can soar after rainfall. Ragweed is the most common allergen in the fall months. It blooms from August to November and grows primarily on the east coast releasing pollen and causing allergies for a lot of individuals during this time. Some allergies, like those to dust mites, can be present all year round and significantly impact patients’ quality of life.

Q: How can I know if what I’m experiencing is seasonal allergies?

A: If your symptoms are persistent, it is best to contact your healthcare provider who can perform certain tests to determine the cause of your nasal discomfort. Chronic sinusitis and allergies share similar symptoms, but have varying treatment methods. 

Q: What is chronic sinusitis?

A: Chronic sinusitis is classified by symptoms that persist for more than 12 weeks. It is caused by prolonged inflammation as opposed to a longstanding infection. The buildup of fluids and the inability for them to drain because of the inflammation can, however, cause infections. Different factors that can cause chronic sinusitis include allergies, nasal polyps, asthma and in various cases, something making it difficult for your body to fight infection.

Q: How is chronic sinusitis treated?

A: Antibiotics or nasal steroids are normally prescribed as the first method to ridding yourself of chronic sinusitis. If that does not work, however, minimally invasive sinus surgery may be the best option. This method involves opening the nasal passageways to allow better drainage of the sinuses. Recovery is faster than traditional sinus surgery as there are no incisions and no black eyes or additional discomfort for the patient to worry about.

If you think you may be suffering from sinusitis, we are here to help. For an appointment with Dr. Brook, or one of our other Ear Nose and Throat physicians, call 617-638-8124 or visit bmc.org/otolaryngology-head-neck-surgery.

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