Is It An Allergy Or a Sinus Infection?
Apr 10, 2012 - 10:08:22 AM
Knowing the difference is the key to treatment
(HealthNewsDigest.com) - For too many of us, springtime is synonymous with congestion. The combination of lingering winter colds and air suddenly full of pollen conspires to make it the season of stuffy noses, runny eyes, aching heads—and frustrating attempts to rein them all in.
Effective treatment starts with knowing whether your symptoms stem from allergies, such as hay fever, or sinusitis, an infection of the air cavities surrounding the nasal passages that frequently develops as a complication of the common cold.
But knowing the difference can be hard since some symptoms can overlap. And even when you know the cause, there are so many treatments to choose from that it’s easy to end up with something that doesn’t help much or even causes more problems than it solves.
For example, millions of Americans are prescribed antibiotics for sinusitis even though the drugs usually aren’t necessary. The problem is so widespread that such organizations as the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recently started a campaign to discourage doctors from prescribing those drugs unnecessarily.
Allergy sufferers are often unsure of which drugstore products they should turn to or which lifestyle changes are most effective. That’s unfortunate not only because it prolongs their misery but also because growing research suggests that inadequately controlled nasal allergies can worsen other health problems, notably asthma.
How to tell them apart
Sinusitis and allergies share certain symptoms, particularly nasal discharge and, in some cases, headaches. But there are several important differences.
Usually, symptoms and medical history are sufficient for doctors to diagnose the problem. But certain tests can sometimes help confirm whether the congestion stems from allergies or a bacterial or viral infection. For example, a nasal smear that contains many white blood cells, called neutrophils, can suggest a bacterial infection, while few or no neutrophils can indicate a viral infection instead. And a nasal smear with many eosinophils, another type of white blood cell, can suggest an allergy.
Some doctors recommend CT scans of the nasal passages when they suspect sinusitis, but the allergy, asthma, and immunology group and the American College of Radiology now recommend against that, saying that scans are necessary only if you have frequent or chronic sinusitis or are considering sinus surgery.
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