Bad sinuses
September 9, 2010 8:43 PM   Subscribe

Really bad sinuses in a really allergen-filled house. What can I do? Is it even my house?

So, I have the worst sinuses ever. Or, should I say, I have the worst right sinus—about a year and a half ago, I got a horrible cold and did something terrible to my inner ear. I had buckethead for three days and it finally got better. I never took anything for it, because I was away at college and the school nurse "didn't see anything".

Even though it got better, I felt like I had some kind of pocket of fluid behind my jaw, and I couldn't lay on my right side because of the pressure. Miraculously, on the plane home from Chicago to Virginia, my ear popped quite painfully and that problem went away as well. (Strangely, I was on an airplane a few weeks ago, and I felt great as soon as my ears popped—very loudly and painfully—but as soon as we landed, I was back to normal.)

But I'm still having problems, which I think is exacerbated by living in a very dusty, moldy, asbestos-y, 2-cat household in the middle of pollen-heavy southwest Virginia. My right sinus always feels like I have tons of congestion, which radiates into my ear. It's definitely worse at night, and I've also noticed that my hearing isn't as clear in my right ear, probably due to the fact that my cold was so bad that year and a half ago. The reason I don't think it's earwax is because this has been going on in some form or another since I first got that "cold" (it felt way worse than a cold, though). I saw a doctor about six months ago, and she gave me antibiotics because she "saw scarring", which totally long as I took them. Eight days later, it was back to usual. I went back, and she looked in my ear and said she didn't see anything.

My real question is: What can I do? I think it's my house that's making this worse, because we were gone for three days a while ago and my strange congestion was noticeably better, though not gone completely. Should I turn my fan on (that's dusty too)? Should I just never move anything, never stir up dust, and wait until I leave home again in four months? But what if it's not my house? Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) is the only thing that helps, but I fear that they're discontinuing it soon in favor of phenylephrine, which is barely a substitute. Can a doctor do anything? I don't want to bother a doctor, since I don't have insurance and my school schedule forbids an appointment most times of the day.

I have "see a doctor" on a post-it note already, so I'm hoping for some other suggestions or anecdotes, in case I really should just wait it out and see if it gets better away from home.

Oh, and neti pots are too expensive (I have $1.19 in my checking right now) and about as much of a long-term solution as Sudafed...
posted by lhude sing cuccu to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Oh—maybe allergy shots?? Do they have allergy shots for dust, mold, and cats?
I swear, my house is so old and has so many poisonous toxins emanating from it...we found a plant growing out of the wall a while ago.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 8:49 PM on September 9, 2010

They have allergy shots for cats and dust....but that requires a doctor. Your cheapest Horton term solution is to get rid of the cats and thoroughly dust/clean your house.
posted by dfriedman at 8:54 PM on September 9, 2010

Your doctor will be able to prescribe something like nasonex-- I've had similar sinus problems for a couple of years which I first attributed to allergies. Well, we moved twice and rid ourselves of our pets, I'd taken up saline rinsing and guess what? My ears and sinuses were still killing me. So I went to the doc and got the Rx.

Now it's only been a couple of weeks, but there has been a noticeable difference. I was unsure about using it at first, as it is a steroid, but my doctor assured me that short term use would be more beneficial than detrimental. We'll see how it goes once my refill is up two months from now. For now I'm happy feeling air rush through sinus space I haven't felt in years and my ears no longer feel wet and itchy.

Best of luck. It may not be cheap to see the doc/get an Rx, but it's a good idea to try it when you can.
posted by sunshinesky at 8:54 PM on September 9, 2010

Go see your GP / get a referral to an allergist. Allergy shots are a great thing. They may be for you.

I was going to suggest a neti pot. If you're a facebook-type-person, look for a page called NeilMed, and they will sometimes give one away (That's how I got mine).

Plant growing from the wall? Maybe it's time for a bleach wall scrub. An air filter would be great. Maybe scout out a FreeCycle group near you, and see if anyone has a filter for the giving.

HEPA Filter vacuum (see FreeCycle again) would be a good thing as well, as it's supposed to better collect dust.

These are just a few suggestions, there are probably more that others will have.
posted by deezil at 9:01 PM on September 9, 2010

I am also alergic to dust, mold, and cats.
Yes, they make allergy shots for these things. If you are also allergic to pollen, they can only start the shots at certain times of year (according to my allergist). Consider going to an allergist now if possible.
Do the cats sleep with you? As much as it sucks, my allergies have gotten much, much better since the cats were banned from the bedroom.
It is likely that you are also allergic to dust mites. Wash your sheets, pillowcases, and blankets once a week in HOT water. This will kill the dust mites, and also help keep down the accumulation of dust. This, along with getting encasings for my bed/pillows has also helped a lot. I asked about it on AskMe.
Zyrtec is a wonder drug. It is also waaaay cheap at Costco. I can get a year's supply of the Costco generic Zyrtec for what a month's supply of Zyrtec brand would cost me at the drug store. It is non-prescription.
I used to take Flonase, and it worked great! It was like not having allergies at all! Then I had a nose bleed that lingered for almost six months. YMMV. Perhaps you are not susceptible to nosebleeds. A doctor can give you a prescription.
Getting rid of the cats would probably help, but there are lots of other options available. You don't have to do it if you don't want to.
posted by Adridne at 9:44 PM on September 9, 2010

If a neti pot is out of your price range, allergy shots are not a real option. Even if you pay out of pocket for testing and the specialist, having the serum made costs around $800.

You want to clean as often as possible, and do so with a damp rag that picks up dust rather than just stirs it up. Vacuum daily. Keep the cats out of your room if possible. Keep your windows closed in the morning when pollen is highest.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 9:51 PM on September 9, 2010

Instead of a neti pot, I use a bulb syringe -- the type that is used to suck the snot out of a baby's nose -- to irrigate with salty water. It's not a "cure" thing, it's a "preventative maintenance" thing.

But what if it's not my house? Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) is the only thing that helps, but I fear that they're discontinuing it soon in favor of phenylephrine, which is barely a substitute. Can a doctor do anything? I don't want to bother a doctor, since I don't have insurance and my school schedule forbids an appointment most times of the day.

You have to sign the stupid book to get the real Sudafed, but yes, it's worth it.

I had a chronic sinus infections involving a lot of sinus pressure and inflamed and infected upper sinuses. I wasn't snuffly all time time, but I was exhausted and my face hurt all the time, my ears hurt, I was totally miserable. It took multiple courses of antibiotics and predisone to clear it completely.

My primary care doc was thankfully smart enough to send me an allergist/asthma specialist, but a lot of general practice docs are unfortunately not quite that aware. You need to see a doc, but try to cut to the chase and get to an asthma/allergy practice. All of that inflammation can cause damage to your sinuses that will make this an even more chronic condition.

(If you go to an ear/nose/throat doc, they will likely push surgery. FYI.)
posted by desuetude at 11:00 PM on September 9, 2010

Buy an air purifier. After I got one I went from Claritin every day to once every few months. Amazing difference and makes the house smell better to boot.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:45 AM on September 10, 2010

Oh crap I didn't see you were broke... Cheapest temporary sinus relief is a bowl of hot water and a towel over your head.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:46 AM on September 10, 2010

Your life was my life a few years ago. And I tried shots, neti pot, moving, air purifier, severely restricted diet, pretty much everything anyone has ever suggested anywhere. What helped my sinuses tremendously was when I stopped taking Sudafed. Your body develops a dependence on that stuff, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

I also lost all the weight I had mysteriously gained while taking Sudafed. They don't generally mention that as a side effect, but if you dig around long enough online, you can find it.

The other thing that helped was giving up caffeine (one of the few things I wasn't allergy tested for.) No coffee, no tea, no Coke, no chocolate, etc. Worked wonders, but I do occasionally cheat and have some chocolate.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:54 AM on September 10, 2010

A good HEPA air purifier is worth its weight in gold - a decent one is around $150 or so. I get that you are broke, so keep an eye on craigslist: here's a link for one in Roanoke for $25, and one in Forest, Va for $15.

Other than that, getting generic Flonase (which will require a doc visit and prescription) is massively helpful - the generic should be in the $5-10 range and lasts about a month - long term way cheaper than Sudafed. A Neti pot or even better the neilmed neti squeeze bottle (less ouch-y and annoying than the pot) is the only thing that helps me when I feel like my sinuses are filled with pollen. Wrapping the mattress in a dust/dustmite proof cover is also helpful, but one of those runs around $75, so I'd settle for laundering the bedding weekly.
And this is heartbreaking, but lock the cats out of the bedroom. Dust/vacuum/launder the bedroom hardcore and keep the cats out and you are guaranteed to have a safe haven at least while you are sleeping. I also take generic Zyrtec daily. Every drugstore has their version of the generic.
It sounds like a lot, but the combination of these things has taken me from flat-out miserable to only occasionally congested and headache-y.
posted by 8dot3 at 6:59 AM on September 10, 2010

All these suggestions are good. I have had allergy/sinus problems since I was about 4 years old, so I've had a ton of experience doing/taking just about every dang thing there is for it/them.

I'm going to attempt to get everyone's things and some of my own here in a massive list for you. It's in no particular order of cost or effectiveness, or necessarily cat-specific (and I do have cats), but this oughtta cover every dang thing about fixing allergy woe I've heard of since I was a kid, so you can pick and choose from here based on what you can currently afford, and see what works. All the things I know you can do to help allergyness:

1. Do the sinus rinsing with the Neilmed little plastic squeeze bottle 2-3x a day. Way easier than neti pot.

2. get rid of pets entirely, get pets off your bed, get pets out of bedroom, get some of that solution you can use to wipe on your pets once a week? to denature the dander, get some of that carpet cleaner to use with a vacuum that does the same thing.

3. wash all your linens at least once a week in hot water.

4. Aerobically exercise yourself into decent shape as much as you are capable without overdoing it. I don't think this truly gets rid of allergy stuff, but I can almost guarantee that it will make you feel some degree better. Likewise, exercise that concentrates on breath like yoga and slow tai chi practice, if done enough, can't hurt either.

5. make sure your mattress is not old. Beds gather tons of crap in em - dust mites I've heard in particular.

6. get some of those hypoallergenic pillow/mattress/comforter covers and/or a comforter designed to be that way. Dunno how comfy they are (the comforters) but they make them.

7. If you use central heating/a/c a lot, make dang sure your filter is decent, and change it regularly like clockwork. Might help to have somebody peek in there, make sure nothing's growing in there.

8. A really good HEPA air cleaner and/or if you discover you are sensitive to mold, one of those Airfree brand heated ceramic-core microorgansim/mold spore destroyer suckers. The Airfree cleaners are nifty as you never need to replace anything, but HEPA filters gather bigger particles and are going to need pre-filter and regular main filter replacement.

9. As somebody up thar said, one of those good HEPA vacuums.

10. All your OTC drugs. I do NOT recommend plain Claritin (regular) as their own studies (and I can't find it right now, but I swear I read it) prove the stuff only worked in 11% of people. Yeah. ELEVEN. Claritin-D, Zyrtec-D, they all have Sudafed in them and that's why they work better. Although as far as non-sedating antihistamines go, I have found Zyrtec to work way better than regular Claritin. Yes, to get the pseudoephedrine in your tablets, you will need to sign the thing at the pharmacy every time that says you're not making meth with it, but it does work and I don't think it's going away permanently anytime soon. Benadryl is still king of antihistamines, but is generally sedating, hence why people these days don't use it more (and I believe how Claritin managed to make their giant marketing coup with a non-sedating product that is really quite shitty, but that's for another whole thread). There is a product called Nasalcrom that is over 10 years old now that I used to use that I really liked when it worked for me; it was like magic. Only bummer about that is that you have to use it 3x a day, and it takes a week or so to work.

11. Herbal/naturopathic stuff. I won't recommend any purely homeopathic treatment 'cause I think those are total bunk, but I have taken stinging nettle lozenges that work in like 5-10 minutes. They only seem to last me about 2 or 3 hours though, and are not cheap. Some friends have said they swear by Quercetin capsules (quercetin is a bioflavonoid you can look up) as a preemptive allergy season strike, but they are supposed to take 6 weeks to start doing anything. YMMV.

12. Prescription antihistamine nasal sprays, prescription steroid nasal sprays, prescription other allergy meds (serevent).

13. allergy shots (aka immunotherapy) - can take 6+ months to work, if it's going to work at all. Some allergy docs now believe this can permanently remove your allergies at some point after a few years of treatment, but that certainly hasn't been the case for me.

14. cortisone shots - you can't get these all the time, as it's not supposed to be good for your immune system; however, some people swear by getting them 2 or 3 times a year when their allergy stuff is absolutely unbearable, and it lasts a week or so. If you are sensitive to cortisone though, it can cause a nice anxiety attack.

15. Acupuncture - often not cheap unless you go to a student clinic. I have seen many acupuncturists, and only one ever worked for me for allergy. She was also not cheap ($60-80 a session) and each time it worked it lasted me about a week and a half before I had to go again. Some people think that many sessions of acupuncture can rid you of allergies permanently, but I have yet to hear this anecdata from anyone I know. Doesn't seem to do jack for me anymore.

16. live somewhere without carpet/get rid of carpet/rugs. Carpet begone!

17. You could see an ENT about sinus surgery. Be reallllllly selective about your ENT if you are actually planning to have surgery, lest you end up worse than when you started. I had a septoplasty / turbinate reduction and it helped me a little (one side of my nose was totally squashed from an accident as a kid) but it was no cure for the allergy stuff. It has kept me off of the yearly sinus infection bandwagon though.

18. move every couple of years to a new state before you get re/newly sensitized to whatever's in the air in your new location. Although it is becoming more and more common that the same airborne allergens are migrating or being brought by humans to most of the continental u.s., so I'm not sure that's gonna be practical much longer. Canada?

Good luck!
posted by bitterkitten at 8:33 AM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Bottom line is you can't clean too much, particularly your room. But one thing that hasn't been mentioned yet is getting your air ducts cleaned if you have central air/heating in your house. Just checking the filter at the intake isn't enough. My parents' 2-cat, 3-dog house was being cleaned meticulously and I still suffered horrendous allergies, and then after cleaning out the ducts I could sleep through the night again - they said we were supposed to have it done every few years and it had NEVER been done. Put a filter on your vent at minimum if you can't afford this - might be a bit colder in your room this winter, but this will help you avoid mystery allergies after you've done everything else you can think of to clean your room.
posted by lizbunny at 8:37 AM on September 10, 2010

Great suggestions, everyone! I'm going to try most of them, if I can...
And I never let my cats in my room deliberately, although unfortunately my door doesn't close all the way and they like to find their way in. They also like to sleep in my car if I accidentally leave my windows open...
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 5:48 PM on September 11, 2010

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