Monday, December 6, 2010

I would like to fire my sinuses.

I have had chronic sinus problems my entire life. According to my parents, I've been having sinus infections since I was two or three years old, and no amount of regular nose-blowings, trips to the ENT specialists, sinus surgeries, steroids, antihistamines, allergist visits, or doses of Bendadryl have given me anything more than momentary relief. 

I remember having a lot of sinus infections when I was small, and they were pretty miserable because, back then, they would nuke you with antibiotics and hope for the best, as hardcore sinus-drainers like Mucinex hadn't been synthesized yet. Amoxicillin and I were off-and-on BFFs for many years during my childhood and adolescence, because the infections kept coming back for no apparent reason. 

When I was eight years old, I had sinus surgery. The doctor was supposed to vacuum out my sinus cavities in hopes that the hardened snot would take whatever bacteria were causing the infections with it. He wound up having to remove my adenoids while he was in there, because they were swollen to the size of his thumbs. The recovery was miserable. My throat was always sore, I kept getting nosebleeds, and having to squirt warm saltwater up my nose was pure, unadulterated hell to my eight-year-old self. 

To add insult to injury, it didn't work. I continued to get semi-annual sinus infections (usually in the Spring and Fall), and they continued to make me miserable. 

When I was in seventh grade, I went to see an allergist. I'd apparently been to one when I was very young and they hadn't found anything, but as my infections had been getting progressively worse, my pediatrician hypothesized that I had developed allergies over time. It's not unheard-of at all, he explained, for people to gain and even lose allergies over the course of their lives, and it was possible that I'd only been slightly allergic to something as a toddler (so it wouldn't have registered on the initial tests), but that it had developed into a big allergy over the course of my childhood. While I wasn't a fan of getting scratches all over my body from the test, I liked the idea of having a solid diagnosis that could be treated with shots and targeted medications instead of the symptom relief I'd become accustomed to. 

PSA: Allergy testing sucks. Someone scratching you over and over and over and over with a metal toothpick for over an hour is not a pleasant experience. My entire back and left forearm were covered in tiny, tiny dots. Of course, my results were negative. The only scratch that got inflamed was the control scratch. The rest? Nothing. Nada. Zip. They tested every environmental allergen they could think of, including all of the common plants to the area. Nope. I'm apparently not allergic to any environmental allergens (I am, however, allergic to sulfa and cough syrup). 

I did get a diagnosis out of the experience, though: non-allergic rhinitis, which apparently stands for "You get persistent sinus infections for no apparent reason. We have no idea what causes it, so here, have some steroids for any inflammation and some decongestants for all that snot. Oh, and if it gets really bad, have some more amoxicillin. Have a great day!" It's really quite frustrating, to be honest. In my case, my pediatrician believed that my nasal passages are sensitive to particulates, which results in inflammation and infection-like symptoms at times of the year when there's lots of crap floating around in the air. It explained why my infections would always happen during allergy seasons (Spring and Fall), even though I don't actually have any allergies, as well as my very strong reaction to cigarette smoke. Rapid changes in weather also trigger reactions, which is apparently a common symptom among non-allergic rhinitis sufferers. 

Nice as that explanation is, it hasn't helped me much as doctors don't know what causes non-allergic rhinitis, much less how to treat it. The only thing that's helped me so far is living in concrete jungles and staying away from smokers. When I lived in Nashville, my sinus problems decreased dramatically because I wasn't constantly exposed to pollen-and-mold-spewing nature, and it's illegal to smoke in restaurants and many bars in Tennessee. I imagine the relatively stable temperatures there helped, as well. Now that I'm back in Appalachia, however, my sinusoidal woes have returned with a vengeance. Thanks, nature/crazy mountain weather. Thanks a bunch. 

I acquired a Neti Pot in the interest of not losing my mind over this, and it's worked okay. I'm still not a fan of pouring salty water up my nose, but at least I'm getting measurably good results (read: I can breathe through my nose again) without the fun and exciting side effects I've come to associate with steroids, decongestants, and antibiotics. It's definitely been necessary and helpful over the course of the last week, in which temperatures dropped about thirty degrees and the precipitation went from rain to sleet to snow. 

More on the snow later. I'm still recovering from the drive home from work. 

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