Have you ever said, “I’m not sick, it’s just allergies” to a friend or colleague? Did you struggle to complete this statement without sneezing, coughing, wiping away snot, rubbing itchy eyes or even wincing from tooth pain?
If so, it’s probably time to recast allergies. Because when your sinuses are overwhelmed with allergens, such as New Mexico juniper, there can be a significant deterioration of overall well-being.
“There have been studies looking at quality of life for people who have allergies, and it’s often diminished,” says Mark Schuyler, MD, chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology for The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. “It’s a very real thing if people feel crappy or pain in the sinuses and their nose is running all of the time.”
The downside: Expect the allergy season, which is definitely energetic and overzealous in Albuquerque at the moment, to last until mid- to late-May.
The upside: There are some simple and cost-efficient strategies to try to win the skirmish against allergies.
Over-the-counter allergy medications
Schuyler says the first step is locating a non-prescription antihistamine that’s non-sedating or mildly sedating at the drug store.
“Most people find that Claritin is the least effective. Allegra and Zyrtec are better, and slightly more people prefer Allegra than Zyrtec. Xyzal is the most effective, but of course it’s the most expensive,” Schuyler says.
If allergy meds aren’t cutting it
Schuyler also suggests an over-the-counter nose spray – Flonase and Nasacort are the most common and work just as well as prescription nose sprays.
“They’re more expensive and none of them work any better,” Schuyler says of the prescription sprays. “The only real difference is the side effects. Some of the prescription ones have fewer side effects, which would be pain, nose bleeds and sometimes a funny taste in the mouth.”
Schuyler says that folks can also try the Oprah Winfrey-popularized Neti pot or, for a less messy nasal cavity cleanse, a squeeze bottle made by NeilMed.
Is it allergies or an infection?
Sometimes it’s tough to decipher if your head is pounding because of allergies or due to a cold or flu bug. Schuyler says you can crack the code by examining your nasal mucus.
“Infections are characterized by fever, aches and pains, and yellow-green stuff coming out of your nose,” Schuyler says. “Allergies are characterized by thin watery stuff coming out of your nose. Also, itchiness in the eyes, nose, sometimes throat, sometimes ears, and no fever.”
If there’s discomfort in your upper teeth, the culprit – you guessed it – might be allergies.
“Upper teeth pain is pretty common in sinusitis because the roots of the teeth go up into the sinuses. The biggest sinuses are the maxillary sinuses, which are in your cheeks, so that can be a sign of sinusitis,” Schuyler says.
“In fact, many patients go to a dentist because their teeth hurt and it turns out there’s nothing wrong with their teeth. It’s just sinusitis.”