Your head feels foggy and is full of congestion. You can’t taste or smell your favorite meal. And on top of that, you have post nasal drip. The worst part of it all? You can’t tell if these symptoms are synonymous with your yearly cold or allergies.
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But these symptoms also could mean you have sinusitis, says ear, nose and throat specialist Michael S. Benninger, MD. Dealing with this common condition could take some getting used to, but Dr. Benninger offers some tips about how sinusitis is diagnosed — and how to prevent it in the first place.
1. What to expect at your appointment
Because the symptoms of sinusitis overlap with other conditions, seeing a doctor will help narrow down a diagnosis.
Write down all of your symptoms so you come prepared for your appointment. Your doctor will go over your medical history with you to further understand if you have a history of allergies or any past conditions.
2. Watch your symptoms
Acute sinusitis (rhinosinusitis) is inflammation of the tissue lining your nose and sinuses and is often caused by a virus or bacterial infection. On top of the stuffy head, sneezing and runny nose, you may also have pain in your face and teeth and discolored drainage.
“Although it is worthwhile to have a doctor look in your nose to help determine the problem, often times a reasonable diagnosis can be made based on symptoms and via a virtual visit,” says Dr. Benninger.
Sometimes, your sinus infection can last much longer and could last more than 12 weeks. This is called chronic sinusitis and in severe cases, you may need surgery to help alleviate the pain. Your symptoms may include pressure around your nose, eyes and forehead, thick yellow or green discharge from your nose or post nasal drip.
3. Give it time and treat as needed
Acute sinusitis typically goes away on its own in seven to 10 days. If it lasts longer, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Your doctor may also perform an allergy test if they suspect your sinusitis is a result of allergies.
Chronic sinusitis is different and treating it requires more time and patience. A combination of medications — including nasal steroid sprays, oral steroids and mucus-thinning drugs — may help ease symptoms. Since it’s not usually caused by bacterial infection, antibiotics aren’t the go-to treatment.
To diagnose this common condition, your doctor may use an endoscope to see inside your nose or they may order a CT scan or MRI to see if you have a deviated nasal septum or growths (polyps).
4. Use over-the-counter drugs with caution
Decongestant sprays and drops may relieve your symptoms for a short time, but sometimes they do more harm than good.
“Use them sparingly or avoid them altogether because of the danger of rebound congestion,” warns Dr. Benninger. “Rebound congestion is congestion that comes back after you stop taking them and leaves you with a new problem to treat.”
Decongestant sprays not working as well as you hoped? You may also benefit from nasal irrigation like a Neti pot, which rinses pollutants out of nasal tissue. Fill this small teapot-shaped kettle with fluid, tilt your head and insert the sprout into each nostril. This helps clean out your nasal passages.
Make sure you pour filtered water into your Neti pot and always clean and disinfect it after each use to avoid infection.
Over the counter intranasal steroids like fluticasone can be helpful for allergies, reduce the intensity of symptoms of a cold and may be effective in chronic sinusitis.
5. Surgery is an option for severe cases
If the treatments above are not effective, or if nasal polyps develop and block sinus drainage, surgery may be necessary. There’s good news: It’s usually an outpatient procedure. Surgery also may help hone a diagnosis in chronic cases and if you have a deviated nasal septum, which can cause breathing and drainage problems.
6. Preventive measures
Washing your hands frequently to avoid the germs that lead to sinusitis and avoiding allergens like pollen, dust and animal dander can help prevent this condition. Not only that, but eating a well-balanced diet, exercising frequently and quitting smoking is important to boost your immune system.
“These steps won’t cure sinusitis, but they can help you avoid it,” says Dr. Benninger.