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Ask the Expert with Dr. Gregory C. Zachmann

How do I know whether my symptoms are related to chronic sinusitis or are caused from allergies?

Chronic sinusitis is a relatively common condition involving recurrent episodes of inflammation of the sinuses (the cavities around your nasal passages.) Inflamed sinuses can cause blockages, pressure in your nasal cavity and trouble breathing.

Cases vary from person to person, but if you are uncomfortable or bothered by your symptoms, it’s time to see an expert. Some cases are related to lingering infections due to a patient’s unique nasal anatomy, while others could be caused by allergies. In either case, speaking with a doctor about your symptoms is your best option. Your family doctor may recommend simple treatments or prescribe antibiotics. However, if these procedures have no effect, it may be time to make an appointment with an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. An ENT can provide physical relief with surgery or symptomatic relief via identification and treatment of allergies.

Your first visit with an ENT should involve a thorough review of your symptoms to identify when sinusitis symptoms flare up to try and narrow the cause of the condition. Following this review, your ENT may physically examine the nose passages with a scope. If we identify polyps or badly blocked sinuses, and you have not responded to medicine or treatments, we may need a CT or CAT scan to produce a 3D model of your sinus compartments for further clarity. If the scan results appear significant and you need surgery, we’ll then use the 3D model from the CAT scan and an image guidance computer to navigate to the precise location of the blocked nasal cavities during endoscopic sinus surgery.

When sinusitis symptoms persist and physical blockages or polyps are not the underlying cause, allergy testing is called for. Common allergies including pollen and pet dander may be factors, however, year-round exposures such as dust, molds or other elements in our environment should also be assessed. Allergy treatments involve exposing a patient to their allergens to condition the body, boost tolerance and reduce symptoms. Often, these are delivered via injections, however, I was the first in the region to introduce Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT). SLIT eliminates the need for injections by delivering small doses of allergens via a spray under the tongue and can be administered by patients in their homes.

Every patient has a unique cause for their sinusitis, therefore the solutions used are tailored to the individual patient. The good news is that the majority of patients we treat can get better. I have a particular interest and passion for treating chronic sinusitis and have made it a focus of my practice. Why? Because I’m interested medically, but personally, I enjoy seeing patients find relief and improve their overall quality of life.

You can also find Dr. Gregory C. Zachmann, M.D.’s article in the April/May 2019 edition of Our Health Magazine.