Allergy, Nose & Sinus

Rhinitis (Sensitive nose)

What is Rhinitis (Sensitive nose)?

 

Many people often state that they “have sinus” when they have this condition. In actual fact, everybody has sinuses (Figure 1). They are part of the normal anatomy in your face and are air-filled cavities surrounding the nasal cavities. The lining of the sinuses produces mucous which then drain into the nasal cavities. When the sinuses are blocked, they can be infected and have symptoms of sinusitis (see section on sinusitis).

 

On the other hand, most patients with frequent clear runny nose, blocked nose, sneezing and itchy eyes suffer from Rhinitis (sensitive nose). Rhinitis is inflammation of the nasal cavity. Majority of the time, Rhinitis is allergic when it is triggered by exposure to a substance known as allergen (most commonly House Dust Mites). Sometimes, Rhinitis is non-allergic and can be triggered by cigarette smoke, temperature changes, strong odors, hormonal changes and dietary factors.

 

Rhinitis is diagnosed based on a combination of clinical history, physical examination and quite often, a flexbile nasoendoscopy. In some patients, a skin prick test or blood tests may be performed to aid in the diagnosis of Allergic Rhinitis.

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Majority of the time, Rhinitis can be treated medically with a combination of allergen or “trigger avoidance” (if possible), nasal steroid sprays (Figure 2) and antihistamines. In suitable patients with Allergic Rhinitis, immunotherapy (often called “Allergy Shots”) to desensitize the patient to the allergen may be indicated. Most of the time, immunotherapy is applied under the tongue (SLIT – Sublingual Immunotherapy – Figure 3a-b). If patients continue to suffer from persistent or troublesome blocked nose despite maximal medical treatment, procedures to reduce the size of the inferior turbinate may be indicated (see section on “inferior turbinate reduction hypertrophy”)

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Sinus Treatment

 

Sinus conditions can be caused by many environmental factors and the state of your own immune system, but not all sinus problems require treatment. Some, such as viral or bacterial sinusitis, which are similar to the common cold or flu, may resolve by themselves within 7 to 10 days while most acute sinusitis can be treated within 7 to 14 days with the appropriate sinus treatment. If your sinus symptoms last for more than three months, it is considered a chronic infection and may require surgical intervention if it’s a serious condition.

 

There are many sinus treatment methods in Singapore that can be used to treat both acute and chronic sinus conditions. Patients may recover completely following these treatments if they are suffering from an acute condition, but those experiencing mild chronic sinusitis may be given medications to manage symptoms. Depending on the diagnosis and severity of your condition, you may be recommended the following sinus treatments:

  • Antihistamines: Alleviate allergy symptoms
  • Antibiotics: Eliminate the infection and prevent further complications
  • Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen: Relieve symptoms for mild conditions
  • Nasal or Oral Corticosteroids: Treat inflammation and reduce amount of mucus
  • Mucus Thinners: Inhaled medications that thin and loosen the mucus
  • Decongestants: Provide relief for blocked or stuffy nose
  • Sinus Rinse: A nasal flush that rinses out the nasal passage to relieve symptoms
  • Immunotherapy: Allergy shots to help reduce the body’s allergy reaction
  • Endoscopic Sinus Surgery: Remove polyps or mucus blocking your nasal passage
  • Deviated Septum Surgery: Enlarge or adjust nasal walls to improve breathing

 

You may also attempt certain sinus treatments at home that can help alleviate symptoms, but proper medical intervention should still be sought in order to fully recover or better manage your condition. These home remedies include:

  • Placing a warm compress over your nose or forehead to relief pressure
  • Hydrate yourself with water to thin the mucus and reduce blockage

 

Types of Sinusitis

 

Sinusitis refers to the inflammation or infection of the tissue that lines the sinuses, which are small cavities located in your skull. They produce mucus, which helps to keep the inside of your nose moist. This protects against dust, allergens, and pollutants. Healthy sinuses do not contain any bacteria or other germs. They can usually drain out mucus normally and air is allowed to flow through the sinuses.

 

The four sinuses we have are:

  • Maxillary Sinus: Located below your eyes, also known as cheek sinus. This is also the biggest sinus cavity.
  • Frontal Sinus: Located above your eyes
  • Ethmoid Sinus: Located between your eyes
  • Sphenoid Sinus: Located behind your eyes

 

When our sinuses become blocked and filled with fluid, germs can grow and cause an infection, resulting in sinusitis. There are two different types of sinusitis:

  • Acute Sinusitis: This refers to the sudden onset of cold-like symptoms, such as a runny or stuffy nose, cough, and facial pain, that last for less than three months. Sinus treatments for acute conditions can include antibiotics and decongestants.
  • Chronic Sinusitis: This refers to a condition that causes more serious symptoms such as nasal congestion, facial pain or pressure, and decreased sense of smell for more than three months. Sinus treatments for chronic sinusitis can include medications, immunotherapy, or surgery.

 

What Causes a Blocked Nose?

 

Nasal congestion, or a blocked nose, is an uncomfortable stuffy feeling you experience when you have the common cold, flu, or sinusitis. It can hinder your breathing and make you feel tired. A blocked nose can be caused by anything that irritates or inflames the nasal tissues. Potential causes of a nasal congestion include:

  • Acute or Chronic Sinusitis: Inflammation or infection of the sinus tissues
  • Allergies: Dust, pollen, and pet dander, can cause an allergic response and lead to the swelling of your nasal tissues
  • Common Cold: A viral infection of your upper respiratory tract
  • Deviated Septum: A condition in which the bone and cartilage that divides the nose is crooked
  • Dry Air: Causes your nasal membranes to dry out and affects the consistency of your mucus
  • Enlarged Adenoids: The swelling of lymph tissues in your upper airway that can cause congestion
  • Influenza: A viral infection that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs
  • Nasal Polyps: Painless, soft growth inside your nose that can lead to congestion

 

Suffering from a blocked nose may lower your quality of life and make it challenging for your to get on with the day. At times, nasal congestion that occurs at night may affect sleep quality. Read on to find out how to clear a blocked nose.

 

How to Clear a Blocked Nose?

 

Nasal congestion is caused by a variety of factors and there are multiple treatments or home remedies that can help to relieve symptoms and clear up the nasal passages. In order to clear a blocked nose, you need to keep your sinuses and nasal passages moist.

 

Here are some home remedies:

  • Use a humidifier or vaporiser to keep the indoor air moist
  • Take long showers or breathe in steam from a pot of warm water
  • Hydrate yourself with plenty of water to thin out your mucus, this is also a sinus treatment.
  • Place a warm, wet towel over your face to relieve discomfort and open up your nasal passages. This is also a sinus treatment method you can do at home.
  • Keep your head elevated during sleep to make breathing more comfortable

 

There are also medications that doctors may prescribe to clear a blocked nose.

  • Decongestants: Reduces swelling in your nasal passages to ease the stuffiness and pressure
  • Antihistamines: If your blocked nose is caused by allergies, antihistamines can relieve allergy symptoms
  • Steroid Nasal Sprays: Anti-inflammatory medicines you spray into your nose to reduce swelling and manage allergies
  • Pain Relievers: Eases the pain caused by sinus pressure, but does not clear up congestion

Sinusitis (or Rhinosinusitis)

What is Sinusitis (or Rhinosinusitis)?

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When the sinuses are inflamed and blocked, mucous can be trapped in the sinuses, resulting in bacterial infection (Figure 1). This condition is known as sinusitis. Patients with sinusitis may have coloured nasal mucous (often yellow, brown or green and sometimes blood-stained), blocked and congested nose, pain in the face, postnasal drip and reduced sense of smell. These symptoms are different from patients with sensitive nose (refer to section on “Rhinitis”), although sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between these two conditions.

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Sinusitis is diagnosed based on a combination of clinical history, physical examination and a flexible nasoendoscopy. Nasoendoscopic findings include swelling of the lining of the nose and sinuses and mucopus (mixture of mucous and pus – Figure 2). In some patients, a CT scan of the sinuses may be required if the diagnosis is unclear, or if the patient has not responded adequately to medical treatment.

 

Sinusitis can be acute (less than 3 months duration) or chronic (more than 3 months duration). The treatment of sinusitis usually involves oral antibiotics, nasal douche (nasal saline wash – Figure 3) and nasal steroid sprays. In patients with chronic sinusitis, sometimes nasal polyps (fleshy non-cancerous outgrowths from the lining of the nose and sinuses) can develop. Patients with nasal polyps (See section on “Nasal Polyps”) require close follow ups and meticulous care to keep their condition under control.

In patients with sinusitis who have failed maximal medical treatment, sinus surgery often known as FESS (Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery – Figure 4) may be indicated. FESS is a minimally invasive surgery done through the nose without any external cuts on the nose or face. With the availability of image guidance system (IGS) during sinus surgery, the risks of major complications may be significantly reduced. Using IGS (Figure 5), the surgeon is able to confirm the position of the operating instruments in the nose and sinuses in relation to critical nearby structures such as the eye, brain or major blood vessels. This is particularly important in revision FESS (re-do sinus operation) whereby there may be a lot of scarring and distortion of important surgical landmarks from the previous surgery/ies or in cases where the sinus anatomy is complex.

IGS CT SCAN

Nasal polyps

What is Nasal polyps?

Nasal polyps (Figure 1a-d) are fleshy outgrowths from the lining of the nose or sinuses. Most of the time, they develop as a result of chronic sinusitis and are due to chronic inflammation. Occasionally, nasal polyps can be due to a tumour, which is most often benign (non-cancerous) and rarely malignant (cancerous). The management of nasal polyps can be complex and depends on the nature of the polyp (benign vs malignant).

 

It is best that you discuss with your ENT Specialist on the best management plan that is suitable for your condition. Additional tests such as biopsy (removal of a small piece of tissue for analysis) and imaging (CT scan or MRI scan) may be required to investigate nasal polyps (Figure 2).


Deviated nasal septum (Bent or crooked nasal septum)

What is nasal septum ?

A nasal septum is a bony-cartilaginous wall that separates the nasal cavity into a right side and left side (Figure 1a&b). In most people, the septum is slightly bent or crooked (called a deviated nasal septum). Sometimes, the bent septum can be bad enough to cause significant blockage of the nasal cavity on one side of the nose. The reason for a bent nasal septum is often unknown but may be attributable to congenital (born with it) or traumatic causes.

 

If a deviated nasal septum causes significant blocked nose, it should be corrected by septoplasty (surgery to correct a deviated nasal septum). Other reasons for septoplasty include nosebleed due to a vessel at or behind the bent septum and for surgical access to sinus surgery. Septoplasty is done through the nose without any external cuts on the nose or face.

Inferior turbinate hypertrophy

What is Inferior turbinate hypertrophy?

At the side wall of each nasal cavity, there are 3 sausage-like bony structures called the turbinates (Figure 1). The functions of the turbinates are to humidify, warm and direct the air as it passes through the nasal cavity. They also produce mucous that traps dirt and bacteria as it passes through the nose. The lowest most turbinate is called the inferior turbinate. Inferior turbinates are the largest and most prominent of the turbinates. They can cause significant nasal blockage when they are enlarged. Enlarged inferior turbinates (inferior turbinate hypertrophy – Figure 2) are the most common cause of nasal obstruction.

 

The size of the turbinate varies with many factors. Many people notice that one side of the nose is more congested at certain times of the day and then at a different time in the day the opposite side is congested; this alternating congestion is normal and is known as the nasal cycle. On the other hand, when there is infection or inflammation in the nose, the turbinates on both sides become swollen and you may feel blocked on both sides at the same time. This also happens very commonly in allergic rhinitis, a condition caused by hypersensitivity of the nose to environmental allergens.

Inferior TurbinateEndoscopic Inferior Turbinoplasty

 

The treatment of inferior turbinate hypertrophy is similar to the treatment of Rhinitis (See section on “Rhinitis). However, in patients who have failed maximal medical treatment, inferior turbinate reduction procedures can be considered. This range from radiofrequency or coblation ablation of the inferior turbinates under local anaesthesia to inferior turbinoplasty under general anaesthesia (Figure 3a-c). There are advantages and disadvantages of each procedure and it is best that you have a discussion with your ENT specialist to determine the procedure that is most suitable for you.

Epistaxis (Nosebleed)

What is Epistaxis (Nosebleed)?

Epistaxis is usually caused by a burst blood vessel in the nose. This is usually the case in children and in most adults. In many people, the front part of the nasal septum has many prominent blood vessels (telangiectasia) (Figure 1). These are benign and are not tumours or dangerous growths. We do not know why some people have more prominent vessels on the nasal septum but sometimes it can be hereditary (genetic). Often, when the child grows older, the vessels become less prominent and the frequency of nosebleed lessens. There are other local and systemic causes of epistaxis but fortunately these are less common.

The first thing that you should do if you have epistaxis is to pinch the nostrils of your nose together (soft part of your nose), tilt your head forward and breathe through your mouth (Figure 2). Do this in a sitting or standing position. This will help the blood clot in the front part of your nose. You should not tilt your head backwards or lie down as the blood will continue to flow to the back of your nose and down your throat. If you do this, you may end up swallowing the blood and feel nauseas or even vomit the blood out.

 

To make yourself more comfortable, you can place an icepack on your forehead while you continue to pinch your nose. You can also rinse your mouth off the blood with ice gargle (water or mouthwash through a straw and cup) to remove the blood that has gone down your throat and mouth.

 

If the bleeding does not stop, you should consult a doctor. Continue pinching your nose till you are seen by the doctor. For heavy bleed (e.g. does not stop after 20 minutes of pinching your nose), it is best to go to the Emergency Department in a hospital.

 

If you are not actively bleeding from the nose, your doctor will take a clinical history to find out more about the frequency, amount and possible causes of your nose bleed. A thorough ENT examination will be performed, which may include a nasoendoscopy.

 

The treatment of epistaxis depends on the underlying cause. If the cause of your epistaxis is due to prominent blood vessels in the nose, it is likely that your doctor will apply a stick with some chemical (silver nitrate cautery) in your nose to seal the blood vessels (Figure 3a-c) This is done after spraying a numbing agent (topical anaesthesia) to the front part of the nose. Silver nitrate application is a quick and relatively painless procedure (some patients may feel some mild discomfort or stinging sensation in the nose but most do not complain of pain). Over the next few weeks, there may be mild crust (dried mucous) and mild nosebleed or bloodstain in the mucous as the wound in the nose is healing. Your doctor may give you some medications to hydrate and moisturize your nose during this period.


Differences Between Sinus, Rhinitis and Sinusitis

When Should You See An ENT Specialist In Singapore?

  • Any Ear, Nose or Throat symptoms that you are troubled with or concerned of
  • Persistent blocked nose with mouth breathing or snoring

Dr Gan provides a comprehensive management in a broad array of Ear, Nose and Throat as well as Head & Neck conditions. He has a special interest in treating various nose and sinus conditions including snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

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