Allergies and Sinusitis



Allergies are a common condition affecting more than one out of every five people. Allergies are an abnormal response of the immune system triggered by a typically harmless substance. This substance, such as pollen, mold or animal dander, is known as an allergen. When a person is exposed to an allergen, their bodies produce a variety of chemicals including histamine. Histamine is the main cause for most allergy symptoms.

Since most allergens are found in the air, the reaction occurs in the eyes, nose and lungs. Symptoms of allergic reactions include sneezing, runny nose, congestion, post-nasal drip, watery eyes, itching or rashes. In people with allergic asthma, exposure to allergens can lead to an asthma flare causing cough, shortness of breath, wheezing or chest tightness.

Allergies can be seasonal and only cause reactions during certain times of the year. This condition is known as seasonal allergic rhinitis and is usually caused by pollen and other allergens that are in the air during certain seasons. Year-round allergies is known as perennial allergic rhinitis and is caused by allergens such as dust mites, animal dander and certain molds that are in the air throughout the year.

Treatment of allergies consists of allergen avoidance, medications and allergy shots (allergen immunotherapy). Allergen avoidance is considered most effective in preventing allergy symptoms. Medications are usually prescribed in the form of over-the-counter or prescription medications. Antihistamines prevent the reaction caused by the release of histamine and reduce symptoms. Nasal sprays reduce inflammation in the nose and help with nasal symptoms. Decongestants unblock nasal passages and improve breathing. Allergy shots work by reducing sensitivity to allergens by gradual changes in the immune system. The result is that exposure to the offending allergen will cause fewer symptoms or no symptoms at all.

Your doctor can help you decide which form of treatment is best for you.


Sinusitis is a condition that refers to an inflammation of the lining within the paranasal sinuses. Sinusitis can be classified by location:

  • maxillary, which causes pain or pressure in the cheek area;
  • frontal, which causes pain or pressure above and behind the eyes;
  • ethmoid, which causes pain or pressure between or behind the eyes; and
  • sphenoid, which causes pain or pressure behind the eyes.

Sinusitis can also be classified by duration: acute sinusitis lasts for four weeks or less; subacute sinusitis lasts four to twelve weeks; chronic sinusitis lasts more than twelve weeks, and is recurrent, which consists of several acute attacks within a year.

Most acute cases of sinusitis are caused by infections, such as viral or bacterial infections. With chronic sinusitis, the membranes of both the paranasal sinuses and the nose are thickened because they are constantly inflamed, possibly due to allergies.

Sinusitis can be treated through courses of antibiotics, steroid nasal sprays, decongestants, saline sprays, or in cases of severe chronic sinusitis, oral steroids. Allergy shots may be helpful if allergies are contributing to the cause of chronic sinusitis. When medications fail, surgery may be an alternative. The goal of the surgery is to improve sinus drainage and reduce blockage. While many people have fewer symptoms as a result of the surgery, many others experience a recurrence of their symptoms post-surgery.

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