Can Sinuses Be Damaged by Prolonged Exposure to Urine/Diaper Odor?
November 13, 2017 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I developed unusual and prolonged sinus damage last year around the same time that I spent a few consecutive weekends packing-up and moving my elderly parents. Both are incontinent and lived in terrible conditions to which they had become accustomed. I will spare you the details but imagine the worst. Now double it. The smell alone was terrible and overwhelming. Could my exposure to these conditions have had anything to do with the sinus problems that still plague me today?

For weeks after the exposure, my sinuses were virtually swollen shut and would only open if I stood up or laid at a particular angle. When open, they would close again once I laid down, but – here's the weird part– the closure would migrate to whichever side I was laying on. Closed on the right side? I'd roll onto my left and, five minutes later, my right side would open and left side would close. I'd always had dust allergies and was taking Allegra as a precaution but my sinuses were so swollen that an ENT had to put my on a two-week course of steroids just to reduce them enough to see inside. Once the swelling was down, he at first thought I had polyps but a CAT scan revealed none. He was skeptical that my exposure to those conditions was connected but I think he underestimated the level of filth and odor as any rational person would. Does anyone know of any cases where primary care givers had suffered sinus damage like this as a result of their exposure to such conditions?

BTW– my dad died a few months after I moved him but my mother is now living in much better conditions.
posted by Jamesonian to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I suffered terrible sinus damage one time when a teacher I was TA'ing for had me clean his whiteboard with ammonia. Neither of us knew enough about ammonia to understand what a horrendous idea that was and what damage would be caused... Anyway, fermented urine does produce ammonia vapor. I don't know at what concentration it would hurt your sinuses, but I'm here to tell you that at a certain level of exposure it burns the hell out of those tissues, absolutely.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:26 AM on November 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Was mold part of the terrible conditions? Black mold, maybe?
posted by Rust Moranis at 10:27 AM on November 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

here's the weird part– the closure would migrate to whichever side I was laying on

This is not actually that weird, except in the way that bodies are generally weird--this has always been how I am when my allergies are acting up.

Allergies are often a chicken/egg thing. Are your sinuses bad because of that, or did you react so badly to that because of your allergies? Probably some of both. Try a steroid nasal spray, it's helped me quite a bit, and try to wear some sort of face protection if you ever wind up doing anything of this sort again, because the mold and ammonia and dust mites are certainly not your friends. But at the same time, probably it wouldn't have been this bad if you didn't have underlying allergies.
posted by Sequence at 10:55 AM on November 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'd roll onto my left and, five minutes later, my right side would open and left side would close.

As part of your autonomic nervous system, your sinuses are always continuously alternating which is more congested/swollen vs which one is actually in use, in what is called the nasal cycle. The currently unused sinus always has much lower airflow. You don't typically notice this unless you are overly congested, because that exaggerates the swelling in the currently unused sinus (and can block the dominant one of course). The length of the cycle varies, and from what I understand it's not actually supposed to be so short as 10 minutes (something more like 30 minutes to several hours, I'm not sure what the factors are that determine the variance). It's always going to cycle to the other side sooner or later, so it could seem like it changed because of the action you took -- but that's probably just the normal nasal cycle combined with extra swelling.
posted by advil at 12:32 PM on November 13, 2017 [9 favorites]

Well, if it helps, I can tell you that I never had a sinus infection in my life until I started spending a lot of time in horse arenas (where the dirt, if you're unfamiliar, is basically a vehicle for horse manure and urine, and I would imagine all kinds of fungi and bacteria, since it's a dark, somewhat damp environment), whereupon I promptly developed chronic sinus infections that lasted months to, one time, a year. Life circumstances changed, I stopped being in horse arenas, and within six months my sinuses cleared up and the problem has never recurred. I've heard a similar story from many other people. So I'm going to say yes, I think your parents' home could have caused it.
posted by HotToddy at 12:48 PM on November 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ammonia - from urine - will absolutely fuck with your nasal lining.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:17 PM on November 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Have you ever done a neti pot? I have never had ammonia exposure so maybe it would hurt or not work (someone else might know better), but any time my nose is unhappy due to colds, allergies, or being in a dirty environment, a neti pot makes it better. I find it soothing and it makes my nose feel clean and fresh and kind of "re-set".

It also sounds likely that even if the irritant wasn't specifically the ammonia (which it sure sounds like it could have been), there would also have been other things in the air in that environment that wouldn't be good for your sinuses. Sounds like there would be a lot of dust. And damp textiles = mold and mildew. All of that sounds like a recipe for an unhappy respiratory tract.

I'm glad that situation has resolved, hope you're ok. It sounds really hard and traumatic for you as a child, caregiver, and human. Please take gentle care of yourself.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:07 PM on November 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

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