Improving Form And Function Of The NoseEach year thousands of people undergo surgery of the nose. Nasal surgery may be performed for cosmetic purposes, or a combination procedure to improve both form and function. It also may alleviate or cure nasal breathing problems, correct deformities from birth or injury, or support an aging, drooping nose.
Patients who are considering nasal surgery for any reason should seek a doctor who is a specialist in nasal airway function, as well as plastic surgery. This will ensure that efficient breathing is as high a priority as appearance.
Can Cosmetic Nasal Surgery Create A "Perfect" Nose?Aesthetic nasal surgery (rhinoplasty) refines the shape of the nose, bringing it into balance with the other features of the face. Because the nose is the most prominent facial feature, even a slight alteration can greatly improve appearance. (Some patients elect chin augmentation in conjunction with rhinoplasty to better balance their features.) Rhinoplasty alone cannot give you a perfect profile, make you look like someone else, or improve your personal life. Before surgery, it is very important that the patient have a clear, realistic understanding of what change is possible as well as the limitations and risks of the procedure.
Skin type, ethnic background, and age will be among the factors considered preoperatively by the surgeon. Except in cases of severe breathing impairment, young patients usually are not candidates until their noses are fully grown, at 15 or 16 years of age. The surgeon will also discuss risk factors, which are generally minor, as well as where the surgery will be performed-in a hospital, freestanding outpatient surgical center, or a certified office operating room.
To reshape the nose, the skin is lifted, allowing the surgeon to remove or rearrange the bone and cartilage. The skin is then redraped and sutured over the new frame. A nasal splint on the outside of the nose helps retain the new shape during healing. If soft, absorbent material is placed inside the nose to stabilize the septum, it will normally be removed the morning after surgery. External nasal dressings and splints are usually removed five to seven days after surgery.
When Should Surgery Be Considered to Correct a Chronically Stuffy Nose?Millions of Americans perennially suffer the discomfort of nasal stuffiness. This may be indicative of chronic breathing problems that don't respond well to ordinary treatment. The blockage may be related to structural abnormalities inside the nose or to swelling caused by allergies or viruses.
There are numerous causes of nasal obstruction. A deviated septum (the partition between the nostrils) can be crooked or bent as the result of abnormal growth or injury. This can partially or completely close one or both nasal passages. The deviated septum can be corrected with a surgical procedure called septoplasty. Cosmetic changes to the nose are often performed at the same time, in a combination procedure called septorhinoplasty.
Overgrowth of the turbinates is yet another cause of stuffiness. (The turbinates are the tissues that line the inside of the nasal passages.) Sometimes the turbinates need treatment to make them smaller and expand the nasal passages. Treatments include injection, freezing, and partial removal. Allergies, too, can cause internal nasal swelling, and allergy evaluation and therapy may be necessary.
Can Surgery Correct a Stuffy, Aging Nose?Aging is a common cause of nasal obstruction. This occurs when cartilage in the nose and its tip are weakened by age and droop because of gravity, causing the sides of the nose to collapse inward, obstructing air flow. Mouth breathing or noisy and restricted breathing are common.
Try lifting the tip of your nose to see if you breathe better. If so, the external adhesive nasal strips that athletes have popularized may help. Or talk to a facial plastic surgeon/otolaryngolgist about septoplasty, which will involve trimming, reshaping or repositioning portions of septal cartilage and bone. (This is an ideal time to make other cosmetic improvements as well.) Internal splints or soft packing may be placed in the nostrils to hold the septum in its new position. Usually, patients experience some swelling for a week or two. However, after the packing is removed, most people enjoy a dramatic improvement in breathing.
What Treatment Is Needed for a Broken Nose?Bruises around the eyes and/or a slightly crooked nose following injury usually indicate a fractured nose. If the bones are pushed over or out to one side, immediate medical attention is ideal. But once soft tissue swelling distorts the nose, waiting 48-72 hours for a doctor's appointment may actually help the doctor in evaluating your injury as the swelling recedes. (Apply ice while waiting to see the doctor.) What's most important is whether the nasal bones have been displaced, rather than just fractured or broken.
For markedly displaced bones, surgeons often attempt to return the nasal bones to a straighter position under local or general anesthesia. This is usually done within seven to ten days after injury, so that the bones don't heal in a displaced position. Because so many fractures are irregular and won't "pop" back into place, the procedure is successful only half the time. Displacement due to injury often results in compromised breathing so corrective nasal surgery, typically septorhinoplasty, may then be elected. This procedure is typically done on an outpatient basis, and patients usually plan to avoid appearing in public for about a week due to swelling and bruising.
Will Insurance Cover Nasal Surgery?Insurance usually does not cover cosmetic surgery. However, surgery to correct or improve breathing function, major deformity, or injury is frequently covered in whole or in part. Patients should obtain cost information from their surgeons and discuss with their insurance carrier prior to surgery.
Projecting prominently from the central part of the face, it is no surprise that the nose is the most commonly broken bone on the head. A broken nose (nasal fracture) can significantly alter your appearance. It can also make it much harder to breathe through the nose.
What is a nasal fracture?Getting struck on the nose, whether by another person, a door, or the floor is not pleasant. Your nose will hurt-usually a lot. You'll likely have a nose bleed and soon find it difficult to breathe through your nose. Swelling develops both inside and outside the nose, and you may get dark bruises around your eyes ("black eyes").
Nasal fractures can affect both bone and cartilage. A collection of blood (called a "septal hematoma") can sometimes form on the nasal septum (a wall made of bone and cartilage inside the nose that separates the sides of the nose).
What causes a nasal fracture?Nasal fractures, or broken noses, result from facial injuries in contact sports or falls. Injuries affecting the teeth and mouth may also affect the nose.
How can I prevent a broken nose?Wear protective gear to shield your face when participating in contact sports.Avoid fist fights.When should I see a doctor?If you've been struck in the nose, it's important to see a physician to check for septal hematoma. Seeing your primary doctor or an emergency room physician is usually adequate to determine if you have a septal hematoma or other associated problems from your accident. If a septal hematoma is present, it must be treated promptly to prevent worse problems from developing in the nose. If you suspect your nose may be broken, see an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon within one week of the injury. If you are seen within one to two weeks, it may be possible to repair your nose immediately. If you wait longer than two weeks (one week for children) you will likely need to wait several months before your nose can be surgically straightened and fixed.
If left untreated, a broken nose can leave you with an undesirable appearance as well as permanent difficulty in trying to breathe.
How will my doctor determine if I have a broken nose?Your doctor will ask you several questions and will examine your nose and face. You will be asked to explain how the fracture occurred, the state of your general health, and how your nose looked before the injury. The doctor will examine not only your nose, but also the surrounding areas including your eyes, jaw, and teeth, and will look for bruising, lacerations, and swelling.
Sometimes your physician will recommend an x-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan. These can help to identify other facial fractures but are not always helpful in determining if you have a broken nose. The best way to determine that your nose is broken is if it looks very different or is harder to breathe through.
What are my treatment options?If your nose is broken but not out of position, you may need no treatment other than rest and being careful not to bump your nose.
If your nose is broken so badly that it needs to be repositioned, you have several options. You can have your nose repaired in the office in some situations. Your doctor can give you some local anesthesia, reposition the broken bones into place, and then hold them in the right location with a "cast" made of plastic, plaster, or metal. This cast will then stay in place for a week. In the first two weeks after the injury, your doctor may offer you this kind of repair, or a similar approach using general anesthesia in the operating room.
What if I need surgery?If more than two weeks have passed since the time of your injury, you may need to wait a while before having your nose straightened surgically. It may be necessary to wait two to three months before a good repair can be done, by which time there will be less swelling and your nose will have begun to heal. Reduced swelling will allow the surgeon to get a more accurate picture of how your nose originally looked. This type of surgery is considered reconstructive plastic surgery, as its goal is to restore your appearance to the way it was prior to the injury. If your repair is done within two weeks of the injury, restoring prior appearance is the only possible goal. If you have waited several months for the repair, it is often possible to change the appearance of your nose as you desire. Should you be interested in this kind of appearance change as well as repair, you can feel confident that your otolaryngologist is a specialist in all surgery of the nose. No other specialty has more training in surgery on the nose, and some otolaryngologists focus exclusively on plastic surgery of the face.
What Is Injection Snoreplasty?
Injection snoreplasty is a nonsurgical treatment for snoring that involves the injection of a hardening agent into the upper palate. Army researchers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center introduced this procedure at the 2000 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation. Their early findings indicate that this treatment may reduce the loudness and incidence of primary snoring (snoring without apnea, or cessation of breath). The Academy neither endorses nor discourages the use of injection snoreplasty for the treatment of snoring.
Those seeking injection snoreplasty to reduce snoring should first be screened for obstructive sleep apnea or OSA (frequent cessation of breathing due to upper airway obstruction) by undergoing a sleep test. If sleep apnea is confirmed, other treatment may be recommended.
Treatment for Injection Snoreplasty
Injection snoreplasty is performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia. After numbing the upper palate with topical anesthetic, a hardening agent is injected just under the skin on the top of the mouth in front of the uvula (upper palate), creating a small blister. Within a couple of days the blister hardens, forms scar tissue, and pulls the floppy uvula forward to eliminate or reduce the palatal flutter that causes snoring.
In some patients, the treatment needs to be repeated for optimum benefits. If snoring occurs from vibrations beyond the palate and uvula and/or obstructive sleep apnea is suspected, further testing and alternative treatment options may be advised. A thorough examination by an ear, nose and throat specialist is recommended to diagnose the source and type of snoring, and determine whether injection snoreplasty may be helpful.
Post-Treatment Follow-Up for Injections Snoreplasty
After injection of the hardening agent, patients are observed in the otolaryngologist's office and then sent home. Tylenol and throat lozenges or spray are suggested for pain management. Patients can return to work the next day. Though snoring may continue for a few days, it should eventually lessen. A post-procedure sleep test may be administered to fully evaluate the effects of the procedure.
Possible Side Effects of Injection Snoreplasty
A residual sore throat or feeling that something is "stuck" in the back of the mouth may occur. Suggestions for treatment of sore throat include Tylenol and/or throat lozenges or spray.
Statement on the Use of Sotradecol
Sotradecol, a trade name for sodium tetradecyl sulfate, is the most common hardening agent used in injection snoreplasty. This agent is indicated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for "intravenous use only" and "for small uncomplicated varicose veins of the lower extremities that show simple dilation with competent valves." Warnings include: 1) "severe adverse local effects including tissue necrosis," and 2) "allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, have been reported that led to death."
Snoring is a Problem
Forty-five percent of normal adults snore at least occasionally, and 25 percent are habitual snorers. Thirty percent of adults over age 30 are snorers. By middle age, that number reaches 40 percent. Clearly, snoring is a dilemma affecting spouses, family members, and sometimes neighbors.
Snoring sounds are caused when there is an obstruction to the free flow of air through the passages at the back of the mouth and nose. This area is the collapsible part of the airway where the tongue and upper throat meet the soft palate and uvula. When these structures strike each other and vibrate during breathing, snoring results.
Treatment for Snoring
Snoring can be diagnosed as primary snoring (simple snoring) or obstructive sleep apnea. Primary snoring is characterized by loud upper airway breathing sounds during sleep without episodes of apnea (cessation of breath).Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious medical condition where individuals have frequent episodes of apnea during sleep, contributing to an overall lack of restful sleep and severe health risks including heart attack and stroke.
Various methods are used to alleviate primary snoring. They include behavior modification (such as weight loss), surgical and non-surgical treatments, and dental devices.
Surgical treatments for primary snoring include: laser assisted uvulopalatoplasty (LAUP), an outpatient treatment for primary snoring and mild OSA that involves use of a laser under local anesthesia to make vertical incisions in the upper palate, shortening the uvula and lessening airway obstruction; and radiofrequency volumetric reduction of the palate, a relatively new procedure performed in an otolaryngologist's office that utilizes targeted radio waves to heat and shrink tissue in the upper palate.
Smell and Test
Problems with these senses have a big impact on our lives. Smell and taste contribute to our enjoyment of life by stimulating a desire to eat - which not only nourishes our bodies, but also enhances our social activities. When smell and taste become impaired, we eat poorly, socialize less, and feel worse. Smell and taste warn us of dangers, such as fire, poisonous fumes, and spoiled food. Loss of the sense of smell may indicate sinus disease, growths in the nasal passages, or, at times, brain tumors.
How do smell and taste work?
Smell and taste belong to our chemical sensing system (chemosensation). The complicated process of smelling and tasting begins when molecules released by the substances around us stimulate special nerve cells in the nose, mouth, or throat. These cells transmit messages to the brain, where specific smells or tastes are identified.
Olfactory (smell nerve) cells are stimulated by the odors around us-the fragrance from a rose, the smell of bread baking. These nerve cells are found in a tiny patch of tissue high up in the nose, and they connect directly to the brain.
Gustatory (taste nerve) cells are clustered in the taste buds of the mouth and throat. They react to food or drink mixed with saliva. Many of the small bumps that can be seen on the tongue contain taste buds. These surface cells send taste information to nearby nerve fibers, which send messages to the brain.
Our body's ability to sense chemicals is another chemosensory mechanism that contributes to our senses of smell and taste. In this system, thousands of free nerve endings-especially on the moist surfaces of the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat-identify sensations like the sting of ammonia, the coolness of menthol, and the "heat" of chili peppers.
What causes loss of smell and taste?
Scientists have found that the sense of smell is most accurate between the ages of 30 and 60 years. It begins to decline after age 60, and a large proportion of elderly persons lose their smelling ability. Women of all ages are generally more accurate than men in identifying odors.
Some people are born with a poor sense of smell or taste. Upper respiratory infections are blamed for some losses, and injury to the head can also cause smell or taste problems.
Loss of smell and taste may result from polyps in the nasal or sinus cavities, hormonal disturbances, or dental problems. They can also be caused by prolonged exposure to certain chemicals such as insecticides, and by some medicines.
Tobacco smoking is the most concentrated form of pollution that most people are exposed to. It impairs the ability to identify odors and diminishes the sense of taste. Quitting smoking improves the smell function.
Radiation therapy patients with cancers of the head and neck often complain of lost smell and taste. These senses can also be lost in the course of some diseases of the nervous system.
Patients who have lost their larynx (voice box) commonly complain of poor ability to smell and taste. Laryngectomy patients can use a special "bypass" tube to breathe through the nose again. The enhanced air flow through the nose helps smell and taste sensations to be re-established.
How are smell and taste loss diagnosed?
The extent of loss of smell or taste can be tested using the lowest concentration of a chemical that a person can detect and recognize. A patient may also be asked to compare the smells or tastes of different chemicals, and how the intensities of smells and tastes grow when a chemical concentration is increased.
Smell-Scientists have developed an easily administered "scratch-and-sniff" test to evaluate the sense of smell.
Taste-Patients react to different chemical concentrations in taste testing; this may involve a simple "sip, spit, and rinse" test, or chemicals may be applied directly to specific areas of the tongue.●
Can these disorders be treated?
Sometimes certain medications are the cause of smell or taste disorders, and improvement occurs when that medicine is stopped or changed. Although certain medications can cause chemosensory problems, others-particularly anti-allergy drugs-seem to improve the senses of taste and smell. Some patients, notably those with serious respiratory infections or seasonal allergies, regain their smell or taste simply by waiting for their illness to run its course. In many cases, nasal obstructions, such as polyps, can be removed to restore airflow to the receptor area and can correct the loss of smell and taste. Occasionally, chemosenses return to normal just as spontaneously as they disappeared.
How do you cope with smell or taste problems?
If you experience problems in smelling or tasting, try to identify and record the circumstances surrounding it. When did you first become aware of it? Did you have a cold or flu then? A head injury? Were you exposed to air pollutants, pollens, danders, or dust to which you might be allergic? Is this a recurring problem? Does it come in any special season, like hayfever time?
Bring all this information with you when you visit a physician who deals with diseases of the nose and throat (an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon). Proper diagnosis by a trained professional can provide reassurance that your illness is not imaginary. You may even be surprised by the results. For example, what you may think is a taste problem could actually be a smell problem, because much of what you taste is really caused by smell.
Diagnosis may also lead to treatment of an underlying cause for the disturbance. Remember, many types of smell and taste disorders are reversible.
Four commonly identified taste sensations:
● sweet● sour● bitter● salty
Certain tastes combine with texture, temperature, and odor to produce a flavor that allows us to identify what we are eating.
Many flavors are recognized through the sense of smell. If you hold your nose while eating chocolate, for example, you will have trouble identifying the chocolate flavor, even though you can distinguish the food's sweetness or bitterness. This is because the familiar flavor of chocolate is sensed largely by odor. So is the well known flavor of coffee. This is why a person who wishes to fully savor a delicious flavor (e.g., an expert chef testing his own creation) will exhale through his nose after each swallow.
Taste and smell cells are the only cells in the nervous system that are replaced when they become old or damaged. Scientists are examining this phenomenon while studying ways to replace other damaged nerve cells.
Antihistamines, Decongestants, and "Cold" Remedies
Drugs for stuffy nose, sinus trouble, congestion and drainage, and the common cold constitute a large segment of the over-the-counter market for America’s medication industry. Even though they do not cure allergies, colds, or the flu, they provide welcome relief for at least some of the discomforts of seasonal allergies and upper respiratory infections. However, it’s essential for consumers to read the ingredient labels, evaluate their symptoms, and choose the most appropriate remedy. It is not necessary to take medication if your symptoms are mild to moderate. Seek care from a physician if your symptoms persist beyond 7-10 days or are accompanied by fevers greater than 101.5 and worsening illness.
Some patients may benefit from non-drug therapies for nasal symptoms, such as nasal salt-water sprays or mists and nasal saline irrigations. As with all over-the-counter medications and treatments, read and follow the product’s instructions before use.
What are antihistamines?
Histamine is an important body chemical that is responsible for the congestion, sneezing, runny nose, and itching that a patient suffers with an allergic attack or an infection. Antihistamine drugs block the action of histamine, therefore reducing these symptoms. For the best result, antihistamines should be taken before allergic symptoms get well established, but they can also be very effective if taken after the onset of symptoms.
What are the side effects of antihistamines?
Most of the older over-the-counter antihistamines produce drowsiness, and are therefore not recommended for anyone who may be driving a car or operating equipment that could be dangerous. The first few doses cause the most sleepiness; subsequent doses are usually less troublesome. Some of the newer over-the-counter and prescription antihistamines do not produce drowsiness.
Typical antihistamines include: generic names: cetirizine, levocetirizine, loratadine, desloratadine, fexofenadine, diphenhydramine, chlorpheniramine, azelastine, brompheniramine.
Brand names: Benadryl®*, Chlor-Trimetron®*, Claritin®, Dimetane®*, Hismanal®, Nolahist®*, PBZ®*, Polaramine®, Tavist®*, Zyrtec®, Xyzal®, Allegra®, Claritin®, Clarinex®, and Alavert®.
What are decongestants?
Congestion in the nose, sinuses, and chest is due to swollen, expanded, or dilated blood vessels in the membranes of the nose and air passages. These membranes, with a great capacity for expansion, have an abundant supply of blood vessels. Once the membranes swell, you start to feel congested.
Decongestants help to shrink the blood vessels in the nasal membranes and allow the air passages to open up. Decongestants are chemically related to adrenaline, the natural decongestant, which is also a type of stimulant. Therefore, the side effect of decongestants taken as a pill or liquid is a jittery or nervous feeling, causing difficulty in going to sleep and elevating blood pressure and pulse rate.
Who should not use decongestants?
Decongestants should not be used by a patient who has an irregular heart rhythm, high blood pressure, heart disease, or glaucoma. Some patients taking decongestants experience difficulty with urination. Furthermore, decongestants are often used as ingredients in diet pills. To avoid excessively stimulating effects, patients taking diet pills should not take decongestants.
Typical decongestants in pill or liquid form are Drixoral®, Dimetapp®, Dura-Vent®, Exgest®, Entex®, Propagest®, Novafed®*, and Sudafed®*.
Decongestants are also available over the counter in nasal spray form. This method of medication delivery brings immediate relief to the nasal mucous membranes without the usual side effects that accompany pills or liquids that you swallow. Over-the-counter decongestant nose sprays should be reserved for urgent, emergency, and short-term use. Because repetitive use can lead to lack of effectiveness and return of the congestion, and thus lead to the urge to use more sprays more frequently, these medications often carry a warning label: “Do not use this product for more than three days.” This problem will improve only when the use of the nasal drops or spray is discontinued.
What are combination remedies?
Theoretically, if the side effects could be properly balanced, the sleepiness caused by antihistamines could be cancelled by the stimulation of decongestants. For instance, one might take the antihistamine only at night and take the decongestant alone in the daytime. Alternatively, you could take them together, increasing the dosage of antihistamine at night (while decreasing the decongestant dose) and then doing the opposite for daytime use. Since no one reacts exactly the same as another to drug side effects, you may wish to adjust the time of day the medications are taken until you find the combination that works best.
Antihistamines/decongestants: Many pharmaceutical companies have combined antihistamines and decongestants together in one pill. Typical combinations include (brand names): Actifed®*, A.R.M.®*, Chlor-Trimeton D®*, Claritin D®, Contac®*, CoPyronil 2®*, Deconamine®, Demazin®*, Dimetapp®*, Drixoral®*, Isoclor®*, Nolamine®, Novafed A®, Ornade®, Sudafed Plus®, Tavist D®*, Triaminic®*, and Trinalin®.
What should I look for in a “cold” remedy?
Decongestants and/or antihistamines are the principal ingredients in “cold” remedies, but drying agents, aspirin (or aspirin substitutes), and cough suppressants may also be added. Therefore, consumers should choose remedies with ingredients best suited to combat their own symptoms. If the label does not clearly state the ingredients and their functions, ask the pharmacist to explain them.
* May be available over the counter without a prescription, although often obtained at the counter itself. Read labels carefully, and use only as directed.
Which medicine do I need?
The chart below makes it simple for you to determine which type of medicine is right for you, based on the symptoms that each treats.
Nasal congestion, stuffiness, or obstruction to nasal breathing is one of the oldest and most common human complaints. For some, it may only be a nuisance; for others, nasal congestion can be a source of considerable discomfort.
Medical writers have established four main causes of nasal obstruction: infection, structural abnormalities, allergic, and non-allercic (vasomotor) rhinitis. Patients often have a combination of these factors which vary from person to person.
What are the causes of nasal congestion?
An average adult suffers a "common cold" two to three times per year. These viral infections occur more often in childhood because immunity strengthens with age. A cold is caused by one of many different viruses, some of which are airborne, but most are transmitted by hand-to-nose contact. Once the virus is absorbed by the nose, it causes the body to release histamine, a chemical which dramatically increases blood flow to the nose and causes nasal tissue to swell. This inflames the nasal membranes which become congested with blood and produce excessive amounts of mucus that "stuffs up" the nasal airway. Antihistamines and decongestants help relieve the symptoms of a cold, but no medication can cure it. Ultimately, time is what is needed to get rid of the infection.
During a viral infection, the nose has poor resistance to bacteria, which is why infections of the nose and sinuses often follow a "cold." When the nasal mucus turns from clear to yellow or green, it usually means that a bacterial infection has set in. In this case, a physician should be consulted.
Acute sinus infections produce nasal congestion and thick discharge. Pain may occur in cheeks and upper teeth, between and behind the eyes, or above the eyes and in the forehead, depending on which sinuses are involved.
Chronic sinus infections may or may not cause pain, but usually involve nasal obstruction and offensive nasal or postnasal discharge. Some people develop polyps (fleshy growths in the nose) from sinus infections, and the infection can spread to the lower airways, leading to a chronic cough, bronchitis, or asthma. Acute sinus infections generally respond to antibiotic treatment; chronic sinusitis may require surgery.
These include deformities of the nose and nasal septum; the thin, flat cartilage and bone that divides the two sides of the nose and nostrils. These deformities are usually the result of an injury, sometimes having occurred in childhood. Seven percent of newborn babies suffer significant nasal injury in the birth process. Nasal injuries are common in both children and adults. If they obstruct breathing, surgical correction may be helpful.
One of the most common causes of nasal obstruction in children is enlargement of the adenoids. These are a tonsil-like tissue located in the back of the nose, behind the palate. Children with this problem may experience noisy breathing at night and may snore. Children who are chronic mouth breathers may develop a sagging face and dental deformities. In this case, surgery to remove the adenoids and/or tonsils may be advisable.
Other causes in this category include nasal tumors and foreign bodies. Children are often known to insert small objects into their noses. If a foul-smelling discharge is observed draining from one nostril, a physician should be consulted.
Hay fever, rose fever, grass fever, and summertime colds are various names for allergic rhinitis. Allergy is an exaggerated inflammatory response to a substance which, in the case of a stuffy nose, is usually pollen, mold, animal dander, or some element in house dust. Pollen may cause problems during spring, summer, and fall, whereas house dust allergies are often most evident in the winter. Molds may cause symptoms year-round. In the allergic patient, the release of histamine and similar substances results in congestion and excess production of watery nasal mucus. Antihistamines help relieve the sneezing and runny nose of allergy. Typical antihistamines include Benadryl®, Chlortrimetron®, Claritin®, Teldrin®, Dimetane®, Hismanal®, Nolahist®, PBZ®, Polaramine®, Seldane®, Tavist®, Zyrtec®, Allegra®, and Alavert®, which are often available without a prescription and are available in several generic forms. Combinations of antihistamines with decongestants are also available.
Allergy shots are a specific and successful treatment method. SLIT skin tests and sometimes blood tests are used to make up vials of allergy-inducing substances specific to an individual patient's profile. The physician determines the best concentration for the first treatment. Once injected, these treatments form blocking antibodies in the patient's blood stream that interfere with the allergic reaction. Injections are typically given for a period of three to five years. Patients with allergies are more likely to need treatment for sinus infections.
"Rhinitis" means inflammation of the nose and nasal membranes. "Vasomotor" means pertaining to the nerves that control the blood vessels. Membranes in the nose have an abundant supply of arteries, veins, and capillaries, which have the ability to expand and constrict. Normally these blood vessels are in a half-constricted or half-open state. But when a person exercises vigorously, hormone (adrenaline) levels increase. Adrenaline causes constriction of the nasal membranes so that the air passages open up and the person breathes freely.
The opposite takes place when an allergic attack or a cold develops. During a cold, blood vessels expand, membranes become congested, and the nose becomes stuffy, or blocked.
In addition to allergies and infections, certain circumstances can cause nasal blood vessels to expand, leading to vasomotor rhinitis. These include psychological stress, inadequate thyroid function, pregnancy, certain anti-high blood pressure drugs, prolonged overuse of decongesting nasal sprays, and exposure to irritants such as perfumes and tobacco smoke.
In the early stages of these disorders, nasal stuffiness is temporary and reversible. It usually improves when the primary cause is corrected. However, if the condition persists, the blood vessels lose their capacity to constrict, much like varicose veins. When the patient lies down on one side, the lower side becomes congested, which interferes with sleep. It is helpful to sleep with the head of the bed elevated two to four inches. Surgery is another option that can provide dramatic and long-time relief.
Are there any risks when treating congestion?
Patients who get sleepy from antihistamines should not drive an automobile or operate dangerous equipment after taking them. Decongestants increase pulse rate and elevate blood pressure and therefore should be avoided by those with high blood pressure, irregular heart beat, glaucoma, or difficulty urinating.
Pregnant patients should consult their obstetricians before taking any medicine.
Cortisone-like drugs (corticosteriods) are powerful decongestants, administered as nasal sprays to minimize the risk of serious side effects associated with other dosage forms. Patients using steroid nasal sprays should follow instructions carefully, and consult a physician immediately if they develop nasal bleeding, crusting, pain, or vision changes.
Where can I find out more?
Additional information and suggestions can be found in the AAO-HNS pamphlets, "Doctor, Please Explain Antihistamines, Decongestants, and Cold Remedies," "Doctor, Please Explain Allergies & Hay Fever," and "Doctor, Please Explain Sinusitis."