Recurrent Sinus Infections
A Missed Sign of Sjogren's.
Along with the overwhelming fatigue, some of the first symptoms I exhibited were a swollen face and puffy eyes, as well as shortness of breath. I'd later come to learn that my sinuses were inflamed and I was barely breathing through my nose due to the swelling inside. Eventually, those symptoms progressed to recurrent sinus infections, which are sometimes the first signs of Sjogren's.
How Sinusitis Affected Me.
My initial symptoms were facial puffiness and pain, accompanied by general weakness. When I went to my primary physician, he examined my nostrils and noted inflammation. I was then referred to an ENT specialist, who confirmed the inflammation and performed nasal irrigation. It was spring at the time and the ENT specialist thought my inflammation was probably allergy-related. He diagnosed me with allergies and referred me to an allergist for treatment. Skin and blood tests showed that I was allergic to dust mites and cats, and I began managing my "allergy" symptoms with over-the-counter medications and immunotherapy (allergy drops).
Over time, my sinus inflammation became sinus infections. Those who have experienced sinus infections know that they are extremely unpleasant. They caused tremendous pain to my face and head, and clouded my mind to the point that I could not think; I was miserable. When I first went to the doctor's, I was prescribed with antibiotics, which worked for the first few times. Eventually, however, the antibiotics prescribed no longer had any effect on my sinus infections. Each time I returned to my doctor's, I would be prescribed a stronger type of antibiotics. In hindsight, this probably destroyed my stomach flora and led to a slew of digestive issues I would later experience. When antibiotics were no longer effective, I tried the neti pot and even acupuncture, which offered me some relieve, but not much.
Some years later, after my Sjogren's diagnosis, I suffered from a particularly painful sinus infection. The pain was so bad that I could barely get out of bed to go to a last-minute ENT appointment. This time, I went to a different ENT specialist, who ordered a scan of my sinuses. After the results came back, he showed me my scans and noted that my nasal airway was almost entirely blocked by enlarged turbinates (tissues inside of the nose, located near the entrance of the airway) and that I had a deviated septum, which made it more difficult for air to traverse into my lungs. The ENT specialist suggested surgery to help alleviate symptoms. He told me that many of his patients had Sjogren's and that the condition was particularly likely to cause sinus inflammation (due to the immune system's attack of the sinus linings). While the surgery would not fix all of my problems, he assured me that it would improve my breathing. I decided to go ahead with the procedure, which included clearing my existing sinus infection, straightening the deviated septum, and shaving down the turbinates.
I was put under general anesthesia for the operation, which lasted for about three hours, and woke up feeling great (high on whatever the anesthesiologist gave me). The surgery was a success. There was no visible scar or bruising on the outside of my face, so I could return to work fairly quickly. But there was congestion and some blood after the surgery, and it was fairly uncomfortable for the first few nights. I also had to go back to the ENT specialist periodically to have the scabs removed from the inside of my nose. The recovery process was not as bad as I thought it would be, but it was also not the most pleasant experience.
For me, though, the surgery has been worth it. I noted a significant decline in the number of sinus infections, although I still suffer from sinus inflammation and a few sinus infections on occasion. I will say, though, if you decide to undergo the surgery, make sure you do your due diligence and find a good surgeon.
Today, I use Nasonex almost daily to help keep sinus inflammation at bay. It helps me especially during allergy seasons, when I am more susceptible to sinus discomfort. I also use a number of moisturizing nasal sprays, including a saline spray and a xylitol spray.
In the last two years, I've also been prong to sinusitis during the onset of winter, when NYC apartments begin blasting heat. While I do have a humidifier, it is no match for the winter dryness. I have started using Vitamin E oil (one to two drops inside of each nostril) to keep the inside of my nose moisturized, and have found it to be tremendously helpful.
I would like to hear your experiences. Have you struggled with sinus inflammation or infections? What are some of the ways you have coped with your symptoms? Please share in comments or contact us through the home page.