Congested, full sinuses: Do you have allergies or a cold?

Sinus congestion at this time of year is confusing. We’re at the tail-end of winter and still are subject to more colds and flu bugs going around, but with an early spring this year in Southern Ontario people are now also experiencing early allergies, with congested runny noses that feel hot and irritated. What to do?

  • Identify the problem

Is it truly a sinus “infection”?  Sinus “infections” are acute inflammation in the upper nasal passages, which include the maxillary and frontal sinuses (across the cheeks and across the forehead) that fill with mucous. The mucous fills the sinuses as protection as when irritation and inflammation is initiated by bacterium or a virus the immune system attempts to “drown out” the offending article. Often, the same response will occur with allergies and irritants in the  surrounding environment.

True sinus infections that have a bacterial source will often progress, meaning there will be a fever component and your mucous is typically yellow or green.  When the sinuses are merely inflamed due to allergies, you may have symptoms of headaches or pain in your teeth (due to full and blocked frontal and maxillary sinuses) just like a bacterial-sourced sinus infection but your mucous will typically be clear, and you may have itchy watery eyes.

Truthfully, they are often very easy to confuse with one another.

Where antibiotics are troubling to address this issue is that when it is allergic-associated congestion, it is not necessary to kill our good flora (bacteria) and as a result we are left susceptible to further infections. The original inflammation or allergy does not get addressed at all.

Don’t believe me? Check out this article :

Antibiotics Do No Good for Most Sinus Infections – New Guidelines – Health Blog – WSJ.

  • Use an appropriate solution

Not all sinus inflammation then is truly an infection. If you are experiencing allergic inflammation, reducing histamine and allergic reaction is possible with both antihistamines and natural sources of antihistamines like quercetin, a compound found in fruits and vegetables that is capable of reducing your overall histamine exposure.

Dealing with inflammation can be done with some good quality omega-3 fish oils (if you are not allergic to sea creatures!), and quercetin is also anti-inflammatory (see above).

Another important point is to keep the sinuses moving during this time while you are working at the inflammation triggers, as in the use of a nasal rinse or a neti pot that involve a salt solution (water and salt) to encourage circulation in the nasal passages. My Neti Pot (seen below, and I do not get benefits from this company for promoting this product) has come in handy for many a sinus irritation!

the Neti Pot

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