However, if you read on past the personal updates, I’ve added more information about what I’ve found helpful in coping with sinusitis. Sometimes when I’m dealing with an issue, I find it useful to hear from someone who’s experienced the same thing. That part of the post contains a few affiliate links. That just means if you click that link and make a purchase I get a small commission that helps me keep up this blog.
For about the last two years, I’ve been having pressure in the left side of my face that comes and goes. I’ve been CT-scanned twice, been dosed with prednisone, tried OTC sprays, allergy meds, and immunotherapy drops. It gets better and worse but is always present. My issues are both a long history of allergies and structural problems. Through it, I’ve persevered…but feeling like there’s constantly something inside my face has kept me from wanting to do many of the things I normally want to do.
So it’s finally come time to have that sinus surgery that I’ve been putting off. That means I’ll be out for a little while and not blogging here or responding to emails while I recover: probably 5-7 days for any email responses and out from regular activity for a couple of weeks.
The good news is that having my septum straightened out, and more space created in my sinuses to help them drain better will likely be successful and will probably help me feel better overall. Sinusitis may also account for the fatigue that I feel all the time (along with aging and having my husband’s alarm go off at 4 AM).
Of course, there are always risks…
Of course, sinus surgery comes with minimal, but real, risks. The sinuses are close to the brain, so there’s a remote risk of brain infection. I’ve had a couple of bad dreams:
- In one, the doctor is consulting with my husband post-surgery and telling him, “Well, there was a mishap, and we accidentally gave your wife a frontal lobotomy. But don’t worry, you won’t notice much of a difference because she didn’t have a personality anyway.”
- In the other one I showed up for surgery, but they told me doctor was out with an infection, would never be back, and had just decided to retire for good. They told me I would never, never, never be able to have the surgery (I wonder if this one was a result of the scheduling mishaps I had).
I take these dreams as a sign of worry, not of impending doom, and I’m proceeding as planned. The likelihood of feeling better outweighs the small risks.
Coping with Sinusitis:
I’ve learned much about sinusitis in the process of dealing with my own issues. Here are my own thoughts on living with sinusitis, and what I’ve found helpful:
Don’t wait too long to get help:
Most cases of sinus infection are brief, get better as your cold clears up, and don’t even need antibiotics. But, if your symptoms persist, don’t just keep putting off medical help, and don’t be afraid to step up that medical help to the specialist level if you’re not getting better.
The pressure in my face continued after the symptoms of a cold were long-gone. I finally went to my GP, who prescribed me an antibiotic, and then another one, until I finally decided to go to an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat specialist).
Self-care is important:
If you’re dealing with a short-term sinus issue, self-care may be what you need.
Are you drinking enough fluid? That may seem obvious, but it’s something with which I struggle.
OTC decongestant sprays like Afrin are only a short fix as they can cause a rebound effect. Saline nasal sprays are safe but didn’t really help me that much. Before I went to the doctor, I found out about the Xlear spray from my dentist, of all people, who gave me a sample. It contains Xylitol (yes, the sweetener) which is supposed to make it hard for the bacteria to adhere. While it didn’t cure my sinusitis, it did help my sinuses feel better when I used it regularly.
Using a neti pot can help…I went full out and bought a Sinu-Pulse irrigation machine that’s like a similar WaterPik attachment I had when I was a kid. It was easier (for me) to use than a neti-pot, which seemed awkward. If you do sinus rinses, make sure that if you use tap water, you boil it for 4-5 minutes and/or use distilled water which will prevent you from getting a brain-eating amoeba that is rare, but can and does sometime occur with neti pots and tap water. Also, make sure to use saline in your water. I found that Xlear also made sinus rinse packets that I like better than the Neil-Med ones.
In my desperation, I also tried to do a honey sinus rinse using saline and Manuka Honey. This honey is supposed to bea “bioactive” antibacterial. However, it did not work for me, possibly made me feel worse, and left the smell of honey lingering in my nose.
It is normal for your MD to treat with medication first (after self-care):
In my search for an ENT, I noted one online reviewer who complained that her doctor “only wanted to prescribe medication.” Trying medication first (after self-care measures have failed) is standard procedure and best practice.
If your doctor looks in your nose and sees nasal polyps (which are fleshy growths in the lining of your nose), she will likely want you to try a short course of prednisone as this often will shrink or eliminate the polyps. And she’ll probably want you to try an over the counter corticosteroid spray like Flonase or Nasacort (I mention these two because they’re the two I tried. I tolerated the Nasacort the best, but there are others on the market as well.). These medications often help to shrink polyps as well as treating nasal allergies.
Of course, it goes without saying that if allergies are the likely culprit, the doctor might also recommend an oral non-drowsy allergy medicine. I just keep Benedryl in reserve for emergencies now that it’s been linked to dementia. (Though my mother regularly dosed me with Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton as a kid at doctor’s advice, so it may be too late for me. CRS does not only mean “Chronic Rhino-Sinusitis” it also means, “Can’t Remember Sh*!” ).
If you suffer from allergies, immunotherapy may be worth a try. Insurance covers shots, but not drops, in most cases. I’m opting for the drops, though, as they don’t tie me down to weekly clinic visits.
However, if nothing else is working, your MD will probably order a CT scan. In my case, there was evidence of sinusitis and a deviated septum but no tumors. After allergy treatments did not clear up my problem, we discussed doing endoscopic surgery. Endoscopic sinus surgery involves going in through the nasal passage with a small instrument and removing inflamed tissue, polyps, etc.
People tend to think of this as a “roto-rooter” operation. My husband explains to me “they have a special tiny melon ball scooper for that.” But it’s really not a roto-rooter job, just somehow satisfying to think of it as such. I’ve had the notion that they should have little “nose gnomes” that should go in there and debride the sinuses with tiny pickaxes. But I diverge.
It’s also not, as one person I read online claimed, “a minor form of brain surgery.” I mention this because it made me laugh. Let me lay that idea to rest — your sinuses are not part of your central nervous system, and sinus surgery is NOT brain surgery. However, your sinuses are close to your brain so there’s a slight risk of brain infection or a leak of CSF, the fluid that surrounds your brain or spinal cord.
Doing the surgery is supposed to help make more space for proper drainage, so the sinusitis doesn’t keep recurring. My operation will also involve moving my crooked septum toward the midline and reducing my turbinates (little structures in the nose).
From what I understand, sinus surgery is usually effective and results in an improved quality of life. That’s what I’m hoping for. Getting back to a life that doesn’t feel like I have something pressing under my cheekbone most of the time.