The Nose Knows
Dealing With Seasonal Allergies and Colds
illustration By Miles Anderson
Augusta has long been touted as the pollen capital of the known universe. Spend a morning sloshing through a yellow haze of pine particulates and you would have to agree. The price we pay for heavenly bouquets of azaleas and copious canopies of dogwoods is perpetual sneezing, sonorous sleep and terminal sinusitis.
While not all of the Garden City’s residents suffer from seasonal allergies, if my waiting room is any representation, a plethora of locals find that fall and spring arrive with daylight savings time and hacking coughs.
So here is a quick primer on ways to thwart the inevitable drip, drip, drip of post-nasal production.
First sinusitis is an infection of the nasal sinuses whereas allergic rhinitis (which produces many of the same symptoms) is an allergic reaction. The two are related but different. Cousins in the mucous, family if you will.
Prevent, Protect and Pummel the Runnies
Increased amount of fluids in your body, especially water, will help the functioning of the immune system, possibly thwarting symptoms.
Another key to preventing nasal disorders is to moisten the air in your home with humidifiers or adjustments to your heating and air system.
For healthy sinuses, you need to eliminate smoking, both direct and indirect.
Most alcohol consumers suffer a great deal of ear, nose or throat infections. It is amazing how even casual consumption of alcohol can cause nasal and sinus membranes to swell, exposing them to irritation and infection.
Good hygiene is the bottom line for good health. Bacterial and viral infections are the most common causes of sinusitis, therefore the risk of getting them needs to be reduced by carefully monitored hygiene such as frequent hand washing with soap and water.
Minimize consumption of milk, ice cream, butter and other cow derivatives. An excessive consumption of dairy products may thicken mucus and narrow your nasal passages causing pain and headaches.
Take many hot showers and inhale steam—this will loosen your mucus and moisten your throat, enabling proper drainage of the nasal cavities.
When a Nasty Cold Strikes
As a obsessive exercise fanatic, as my loving wife labels me, I am often faced with the question of should I exercise if my sinuses are as backed up as Washington Road in rush hour. I know I am not alone in this quandary as many of my patients have asked the same question.
David Nieman, professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University, says, “If you have a cold, most clinical experts recommend waiting a day or so after your cold symptoms disappear to resume intensive exercise. Mild to moderate exercise (such as walking) when you have a cold is fine. If your illness is more serious—fever, fatigue, muscle aches—you should wait two to four weeks before resuming your training regimen.”
Another common quandary is, do antibiotics help with colds and sinus issues? The answer lies in distinguishing between two similar yet separate conditions. Most if not all colds are due to viruses, which are completely immune to antibiotics; therefore, using antibiotics for the common cold is both useless and potentially harmful.
Sinusitis, however, refers to an actual bacterial infection of the sinus cavities and antibiotics may be helpful. Sometimes, a bacterial infection will follow a cold virus. Signs that you may have a bacterial infection after a cold include pain around the face and eyes along with thick yellow or green nasal mucus. Another sign is coughing up thick yellow or green mucus. These symptoms are common with a cold, but if they last for more than a week, you may have a bacterial infection.
Natural Treatments for Colds and Sinus Problems
Vitamin C has been long used as a treatment for the common cold, but you might be surprised at how conflicted the evidence is. Although it seems to boost some aspects of the immune system, studies do not show that vitamin C helps prevent colds in most people.
Echinacea is a fave in the over-the-counter war on colds and sinusitis. Once again, the evidence is mixed. Although some studies show it can reduce the length and severity of colds by 10 to 30 percent, most studies indicate echinacea is not much better than placebo. Can echinacea help prevent you from catching cold or flu viruses? The majority of studies say no.
Zinc is used in several popular cold remedies. Taking zinc, either as a syrup or lozenge, through the first few days of a cold may shorten the misery of an upper respiratory infection, but it will not cure it. A recent review of 15 studies also found that zinc appeared to prevent colds slightly better than placebo in people who used it over the course of about five months.
The take-home message is practice healthy prevention or move to Anchorage!
Dr. Eaker is an Augusta Ob/GYN and author. He and his wife, Susan, have two teenage daughters.