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NOSE & MOUTH

ALLERGIES AND HAY FEVER

Insight into causes, treatment, and prevention

  • Why does the body develop allergies?

  • What are common allergens?

  • When should a doctor be consulted?

  • and more…

Millions of Americans suffer from nasal allergies, commonly known as hay fever. Often fragrant flowers are blamed for the uncomfortable symptoms, yet they are rarely the cause; their pollens are too heavy to be airborne. An ear, nose, and throat specialist can help determine the substances causing your discomfort and develop a management plan that will help make life more enjoyable.

 

Why does the body develop allergies?

Allergy symptoms appear when the immune system reacts to an allergic substance that has entered the body as though it were an unwelcome invader. The immune system will produce special antibodies capable of recognizing the same allergic substance if it enters the body at a later time.

When an allergen reenters the body, the immune system rapidly recognizes it, causing a series of reactions. These reactions often involve tissue destruction, blood vessel dilation, and production of many inflammatory substances, including histamine. Histamine produces common allergy symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, nasal and sinus congestion, headaches, sneezing, scratchy throat, hives, shortness of breath, etc. Other less common symptoms are balance disturbances, skin irritations such as eczema, and even respiratory problems like asthma.

 

What are common allergens?

Many common substances can be allergens. Pollens, food, mold, dust, feathers, animal dander, chemicals, drugs such as penicillin, and environmental pollutants commonly cause many to suffer allergic reactions.

 

Pollens

One of the most significant causes of allergic rhinitis in the United States is ragweed. It begins pollinating in late August in most of the U.S. and continues until the first frost. Late springtime pollens come from grasses like timothy, orchard, red top, sweet vernal, Bermuda, Johnson, and some bluegrasses. Early springtime hay fever is most often caused by pollens of trees such as elm, maple, birch, poplar, beech, ash, oak, walnut, sycamore, cypress, hickory, pecan, cottonwood, and alder. Flowering plants rarely cause allergy symptoms.

 

Household allergens

Certain allergens are present all year long. These include house dust, pet danders, and some foods and chemicals. Symptoms caused by these allergens often worsen in the winter when the house is closed up, due to poor ventilation..

 

Mold

Mold spores also cause allergy problems. Molds are present all year long and grow both outdoors and indoors. Dead leaves and farm areas are common sources for outdoor molds. Indoor plants, old books, bathrooms, and damp areas are common sources of indoor mold growth. Mold is also common in foods.

 

How can allergies be managed?

Allergies are rarely life-threatening, but often cause lost work days, decreased work efficiency, poor school performance, and a negative effect on the quality of life. Considering the millions of dollars spent on antiallergy medications and the cost of lost work time, allergies cannot be considered a minor problem.

For some allergy sufferers, symptoms may be seasonal, but for others they produce year-round discomfort. Symptom control is most successful when multiple approaches are used simultaneously to manage the allergy. They may include minimizing exposure to allergens, desensitization with allergy shots or drops, and medications. If used properly, medications, including antihistamines, nasal decongestant sprays, steroid sprays, saline sprays, and cortisone-type preparations, can be helpful. Even over-the-counter drugs can be beneficial, but some may cause drowsiness.

 

When should a doctor be consulted?

The most appropriate person to evaluate allergy problems is an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist). Aside from gathering a detailed history and completing a thorough examination of the ears, nose, throat, head, ENT doctors will offer advice on proper environmental control. They will also evaluate the sinuses to determine if infection or structural abnormality (deviated septum, polyps) is contributing to the symptoms.

In addition, the doctor may advise testing to determine the specific allergen that is causing discomfort. In some cases subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots) or sublingual immunotherapy (allergy drops) may be recommended.  Immunotherapy is a method of treating allergies by desensitizing individuals to allergens over time, in many cases with the goal that they be cured of their allergies.

 

Tips for reducing the exposure to common allergens

  • Wear a pollen mask when mowing grass or cleaning house (most drugstores sell them).

  • Change your air filters regularly in heating and air conditioning systems and vacuum cleaners and/or install an air purifier. Consider a HEPA filter in your bedroom or other rooms where you spend a lot of time.

  • Keep windows and doors closed during heavy pollen seasons.

  • Wipe down indoor-outdoor animals as they return inside to remove pollen on their fur. 

  • Use daily saline nasal rinses to cleanse your nose and sinuses of the offending allergens.

  • Rid your home of sources of mildew.

  • Try not to allow dander-producing animals (i.e., cats, dogs, etc.) into your home and bedroom. However, if you have a pet, ask your ENT for suggestions to allow you to enjoy your pet while also enjoying a life free of allergies.

  • Change feather pillows, woolen blankets, and woolen clothing to cotton or synthetic materials.

  • Enclose mattress, box springs, and pillows in a plastic barrier.

  • Use over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants as needed and as tolerated.  However, you will likely find the best allergy symptom control with topical nasal sprays and eye drops that can be prescribed by your ENT.

  • Sleep with the head of the bed tilted upward. Elevating it helps relieve nasal congestion.

Discuss hay fever and allergy symptoms with a physician when experiencing an allergic reaction.

 

DO I HAVE SINUSITIS

Sinusitis is inflammation of the lining membrane of any sinus. Take the following quiz to see if you have sinusitis.

Choose "yes" if you have any of the following symptoms for ten days or longer; otherwise, choose "no."

1. Facial pressure/pain?

yes no

 

2. Headache pain?

yes no

 

3. Congestion or stuffy nose?

yes no

 

4. Thick, yellow-green nasal discharge?

yes no

 

5. Low fever (99-100°)?

yes no

 

6. Bad breath?

yes no

 

7. Pain in the upper teeth?

yes no

I

f you answered "Yes" to three or more of the symptoms listed above, you may have a sinus infection resulting from allergies, bacteria, or a response to fungi. An examination by an ear, nose, and throat specialist may be warranted.

©Editor's Note: The text from this quiz may be freely used. Attribution to the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery is required.

 

SINUS HEADACHES

Not every headache is the consequence of sinus and nasal passage problems. For example, many patients visit an ear, nose, and throat specialist to seek treatment for a sinus headache and learn they actually have a migraine or tension headache. The confusion is common, a migraine can cause irritation of the trigeminal or fifth cranial nerve (with branches in the forehead, cheeks and jaw). This may produce pain at the lower-end branches of the nerve, in or near the sinus cavity.

 

Symptoms Of Sinusitis

Pain in the sinus area does not automatically mean that you have a sinus disorder. On the other hand, sinus and nasal passages can become inflamed leading to a headache. Headache is one of the key symptoms of patients diagnosed with acute or chronic sinusitis. In addition to a headache, sinusitis patients often complain of:

  • Pain and pressure around the eyes, across the cheeks and the forehead

  • Achy feeling in the upper teeth

  • Fever and chills

  • Facial swelling

  • Nasal stuffiness

  • Yellow or green discharge

However, it is important to note that there are some cases of headaches related to chronic sinusitis without other upper respiratory symptoms. This suggests that an examination for sinusitis be considered when treatment for a migraine or other headache disorder is unsuccessful.

 

Treatment For A Sinus Headache

Sinus headaches are associated with a swelling of the membranes lining the sinuses (spaces adjacent to the nasal passages). Pain occurs in the affected region – the result of air, pus, and mucus being trapped within the obstructed sinuses. The discomfort often occurs under the eye and in the upper teeth (disguised as a headache or toothache). Sinus headaches tend to worsen as you bend forward or lie down. The key to relieving the symptoms is to reduce sinus swelling and inflammation and facilitate mucous drainage from the sinuses.

There are several at-home steps that help prevent sinus headache or alleviate its pain. They include:

Breathe moist air: Relief for a sinus headache can be achieved by humidifying the dry air environment. This can be done by using a steam vaporizer or cool-mist humidifier, steam from a basin of hot water, or steam from a hot shower.

Alternate hot and cold compresses: Place a hot compress across your sinuses for three minutes, and then a cold compress for 30 seconds. Repeat this procedure three times per treatment, two to six times a day.

Nasal irrigation: Some believe that when nasal irrigation or rinse is performed, mucus, allergy creating particles and irritants such as pollens, dust particles, pollutants and bacteria are washed away, reducing the inflammation of the mucous membrane. Normal mucosa will fight infections and allergies better and will reduce the symptoms. Nasal irrigation helps shrink the sinus membranes and thus increases drainage. There are several over-the-counter nasal rinse products available. Consult your ear, nose, and throat specialist for directions on making a home nasal rinse or irrigation solution.

Over-the-counter medications: Some over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are highly effective in reducing sinus headache pain. The primary ingredient in most OTC pain relievers is aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, or a combination of them. The best way to choose a pain reliever is by determining which of these ingredients works best for you.

Decongestants: Sinus pressure headaches caused by allergies are usually treated with decongestants and antihistamines. In difficult cases, nasal steroid sprays may be recommended.

Alternative medicine: Chinese herbalists use Magnolia Flower as a remedy for clogged sinus and nasal passages. In conjunction with other herbs, such as angelica, mint, and chrysanthemum, it is often recommended for upper respiratory tract infections and sinus headaches, although its effectiveness for these problems has not been scientifically confirmed.

If none of these preventative measures or treatments is effective, a visit to an ear, nose, and throat specialist may be warranted. During the examination, a CT scan of the sinuses may be ordered to determine the extent of blockage caused by chronic sinusitis. If no chronic sinusitis were found, treatment might then include allergy testing and desensitization (allergy shots). Acute sinusitis is treated with antibiotics and decongestants. If antibiotics fail to relieve the chronic sinusitis and accompanying headaches, endoscopic or image-guided surgery may be the recommended treatment.

 

TMJ PAIN

Insight into causes and treatments

  • How does the Temporo-Mandibular Joint work?

  • What causes TMJ pain?

  • How is TMJ pain treated?

  • and more…

Open your jaw all the way and shut it. This simple movement would not be possible without the Temporo-Mandibular Joint (TMJ). It connects the temporal bone (the bone that forms the side of the skull) and the mandible (the lower jaw). Even though it is only a small disc of cartilage, it separates the bones so that the mandible may slide easily whenever you talk, swallow, chew, kiss, etc. Therefore, damage to this complex, triangular structure in front of your ear, can cause considerable discomfort.

 

Where is the Temporo-Mandibular Joint?

You can locate this joint by putting your finger on the triangular structure in front of your ear. Then move your finger just slightly forward and press firmly while you open your jaw all the way and close it. You can also feel the joint motion in your ear canal.

 

How does the TMJ work?

When you bite down hard, you put force on the object between your teeth and on the joint. In terms of physics, the jaw is the lever and the TMJ is the fulcrum. Actually, more force is applied (per square foot) to the joint surface than to whatever is between your teeth because the cartilage between the bones provides a smooth surface, over which the joint can freely slide with minimal friction.

Therefore, the forces of chewing can be distributed over a wider surface in the joint space and minimize the risk of injury. In addition, several muscles contribute to opening and closing the jaw and aid in the function of the TMJ.

 

What causes TMJ pain?

In most patients, pain associated with the TMJ is a result of displacement of the cartilage disc that causes pressure and stretching of the associated sensory nerves. The popping or clicking occurs when the disk snaps into place when the jaw moves. In addition, the chewing muscles may spasm, not function efficiently, and cause pain and tenderness.

 

What causes damage to the TMJ?

  • Major and minor trauma to the jaw

  • Teeth grinding

  • Excessive gum chewing

  • Stress and other psychological factors

  • Improper bite or malpositioned jaws

  • Arthritis

 

What are the symptoms?

  • Ear pain

  • Sore jaw muscles

  • Temple/cheek pain

  • Jaw popping/clicking

  • Locking of the jaw

  • Difficulty in opening the mouth fully

  • Frequent head/neck aches

The pain may be sharp and searing, occurring each time you swallow, yawn, talk, or chew, or it may be dull and constant. It hurts over the joint, immediately in front of the ear, but pain can also radiate elsewhere. It often causes spasms in the adjacent muscles that are attached to the bones of the skull, face, and jaws. Then pain can be felt at the side of the head (the temple), the cheek, the lower jaw, and the teeth.

A very common focus of pain is in the ear. Many patients come to the ear specialist quite convinced their pain is from an ear infection. When the earache is not associated with a hearing loss and the eardrum looks normal, the doctor will consider the possibility that the pain comes from TMJ.

There are a few other symptoms besides pain that TMJ can cause. It can make popping, clicking, or grinding sounds when the jaws are opened wide. Or the jaw locks wide open (dislocated). At the other extreme, TMJ can prevent the jaws from opening fully. Some people get ringing in their ears from TMJ.

 

How is TMJ pain treated?

Because TMJ symptoms often develop in the head and neck, otolaryngologists are appropriately qualified to diagnose TMJ problems. Proper diagnosis of TMJ begins with a detailed history and physical, including careful assessment of the teeth occlusion and function of the jaw joints and muscles. An early diagnosis will likely respond to simple, self-remedies:

  • Rest the muscles and joints by eating soft foods.

  • Do not chew gum.

  • Avoid clenching or tensing.

  • Relax muscles with moist heat (1/2 hour at least twice daily).

In cases of joint injury, apply ice packs soon after the injury to reduce swelling. Relaxation techniques and stress reduction, patient education, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, or other medications may also offer relief.

Other treatments for advanced cases may include fabrication of an occlusal splint to prevent wear and tear on the joint, improving the alignment of the upper and lower teeth, and surgery. After diagnosis, your otolaryngologist may suggest further consultation with your dentist and oral surgeon to facilitate effective management of TMJ pain.

 

TONISILS & ADENOIDS

Insight into tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy

  • What affects tonsils and adenoids?

  • When should I see a doctor?

  • Common symptoms of tonsillitis and enlarged adenoids

  • and more...

Tonsils and adenoids are on the body's first line of defense-our immune system. They "sample" bacteria and viruses that enter the body through the mouth or nose at the risk of their own infection. But at times, they become more of a liability than an asset and may even trigger airway obstruction or repeated bacterial infections. Your ear, nose, and throat specialist can suggest the best treatment options.

 

What are tonsils and adenoids?

Two masses of tissue that are similar to the lymph nodes or "glands" found in the neck, groin, and armpits. Tonsils are the two masses on the back of the throat. Adenoids are high in the throat behind the nose and the roof of the mouth (soft palate) and are not visible through the mouth without special instruments.

 

What affects tonsils and adenoids?

The most common problems affecting the tonsils and adenoids are recurrent infections (throat or ear) and significant enlargement or obstruction that causes breathing, swallowing, and sleep problems.

Abscesses around the tonsils, chronic tonsillitis, and infections of small pockets within the tonsils that produce foul-smelling, cheese-like formations can also affect the tonsils and adenoids, making them sore and swollen. Tumors are rare, but can grow on the tonsils.

 

When should I see a doctor?

You should see your doctor when you or your child suffer the common symptoms of infected or enlarged tonsils or adenoids.

Your physician will ask about problems of the ear, nose, and throat and examine the head and neck. He or she will use a small mirror or a flexible lighted instrument to see these areas.

Other methods used to check tonsils and adenoids are:

  • Medical history

  • Physical examination

  • Throat cultures/Strep tests - helpful in determining infections in the throat

  • X-rays - helpful in determining the size and shape of the adenoids

  • Blood tests - helpful in determing infections such as mononucleosis

 

How are tonsil and adenoid diseases treated?

Bacterial infections of the tonsils, especially those caused by streptococcus, are first treated with antibiotics. Sometimes, removal of the tonsils and/or adenoids may be recommended if there are recurrent infections despite antibiotic therapy, and/or difficulty breathing due to enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids. Such obstruction to breathing causes snoring and disturbed sleep that leads to daytime sleepiness in adults and behavioral problems in children.

Chronic infection can affect other areas such as the eustachian tube - the passage between the back of the nose and the inside of the ear. This can lead to frequent ear infections and potential hearing loss. Recent studies indicate adenoidectomy may be a beneficial treatment for some children with chronic earaches accompanied by fluid in the middle ear (otitis media with effusion).

In adults, the possibility of cancer or a tumor may be another reason for removing the tonsils and adenoids. In some patients, especially those with infectious mononucleosis, severe enlargement may obstruct the airway. For those patients, treatment with steroids (e.g., cortisone) is sometimes helpful.

 

How to prepare for surgery

Children

  • Talk to your child about his/her feelings and provide strong reassurance and support

  • Encourage the idea that the procedure will make him/her healthier.

  • Be with your child as much as possible before and after the surgery.

  • Tell him/her to expect a sore throat after surgery.

  • Reassure your child that the operation does not remove any important parts of the body, and that he/she will not look any different afterward.

  • If your child has a friend who has had this surgery, it may be helpful to talk about it with that friend.

 

Adults and children

For at least two weeks before any surgery, the patient should refrain from taking aspirin or other medications containing aspirin. (WARNING: Children should never be given aspirin because of the risk of developing Reye's syndrome).

  • If the patient or patient's family has had any problems with anesthesia, the surgeon should be informed. If the patient is taking any other medications, has sickle cell anemia, has a bleeding disorder, is pregnant, has concerns about the transfusion of blood, or has used steroids in the past year, the surgeon should be informed.

  • A blood test and possibly a urine test may be required prior to surgery.

  • Generally, after midnight prior to the operation, nothing may be taken by mouth (including chewing gum, mouthwashes, throat lozenges, toothpaste, water.) Anything in the stomach may be vomited when anesthesia is induced, and this is dangerous.

When the patient arrives at the hospital or surgery center, the anesthesiologist or nursing staff may meet with the patient and family to review the patient's history. The patient will then be taken to the operating room and given an anesthetic. Intravenous fluids are usually given during and after surgery.

After the operation, the patient will be taken to the recovery area. Recovery room staff will observe the patient until discharged. Every patient is unique, and recovery time may vary.

Your ENT specialist will provide you with the details of preoperative and postoperative care and answer any questions you may have.

 

After surgery

There are several postoperative symptoms that may arise. These include, but are not limited to, swallowing problems, vomiting, fever, throat pain, and ear pain. Occasionally, bleeding may occur after surgery. If the patient has any bleeding, your surgeon should be notified immediately.

Any questions or concerns you have should be discussed openly with your surgeon.

 

Tonsillitis and its symptoms

Tonsillitis is an infection in one or both tonsils. One sign is swelling of the tonsils. Other signs or symptoms are:

  • Redder than normal tonsils

  • A white or yellow coating on the tonsils

  • A slight voice change due to swelling

  • Sore throat

  • Uncomfortable or painful swallowing

  • Swollen lymph nodes (glands) in the neck

  • Fever

  • Bad breath

 

Enlarged adenoids and their symptoms

If your or your child's adenoids are enlarged, it may be hard to breathe through the nose. Other signs of constant enlargement are:

  • Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose most of the time

  • Nose sounds "blocked" when the person speaks

  • Noisy breathing during the day

  • Recurrent ear infections

  • Snoring at night

  • Breathing stops for a few seconds at night during snoring or loud breathing (sleep apnea)

 

DEVIATED SEPTUM

The shape of your nasal cavity could be the cause of chronic sinusitis. The nasal septum is the wall dividing the nasal cavity into halves; it is composed of a central supporting skeleton covered on each side by mucous membrane. The front portion of this natural partition is a firm but bendable structure made mostly of cartilage and is covered by skin that has a substantial supply of blood vessels. The ideal nasal septum is exactly midline, separating the left and right sides of the nose into passageways of equal size.

Estimates are that 80 percent of all nasal septums are off-center, a condition that is generally not noticed. A "deviated septum" occurs when the septum is severely shifted away from the midline. The most common symptom from a badly deviated or crooked septum is difficulty breathing through the nose. The symptoms are usually worse on one side, and sometimes actually occur on the side opposite the bend. In some cases the crooked septum can interfere with the drainage of the sinuses, resulting in repeated sinus infections.

Septoplasty is the preferred surgical treatment to correct a deviated septum. This procedure is not generally performed on minors, because the cartilaginous septum grows until around age 18. Septal deviations commonly occur due to nasal trauma.

 

A deviated septum may cause one or more of the following:

  • Blockage of one or both nostrils

  • Nasal congestion, sometimes one-sided

  • Frequent nosebleeds

  • Frequent sinus infections

  • At times, facial pain, headaches, postnasal drip

  • Noisy breathing during sleep (in infants and young children)

 

In some cases, a person with a mildly deviated septum has symptoms only when he or she also has a "cold" (an upper respiratory tract infection). In these individuals, the respiratory infection triggers nasal inflammation that temporarily amplifies any mild airflow problems related to the deviated septum. Once the "cold" resolves, and the nasal inflammation subsides, symptoms of a deviated septum often resolve, too.

Diagnosis of A Deviated Septum: Patients with chronic sinusitis often have nasal congestion, and many have nasal septal deviations. However, for those with this debilitating condition, there may be additional reasons for the nasal airway obstruction. The problem may result from a septal deviation, reactive edema (swelling) from the infected areas, allergic problems, mucosal hypertrophy (increase in size), other anatomic abnormalities, or combinations thereof. A trained specialist in diagnosing and treating ear, nose, and throat disorders can determine the cause of your chronic sinusitis and nasal obstruction.

Your First Visit: After discussing your symptoms, the primary care physician or specialist will inquire if you have ever incurred severe trauma to your nose and if you have had previous nasal surgery. Next, an examination of the general appearance of your nose will occur, including the position of your nasal septum. This will entail the use of a bright light and a nasal speculum (an instrument that gently spreads open your nostril) to inspect the inside surface of each nostril.

Surgery may be the recommended treatment if the deviated septum is causing troublesome nosebleeds or recurrent sinus infections. Additional testing may be required in some circumstances.

Septoplasty: Septoplasty is a surgical procedure performed entirely through the nostrils, accordingly, no bruising or external signs occur. The surgery might be combined with a rhinoplasty, in which case the external appearance of the nose is altered and swelling/bruising of the face is evident. Septoplasty may also be combined with sinus surgery.

The time required for the operation averages about one to one and a half hours, depending on the deviation. It can be done with a local or a general anesthetic, and is usually done on an outpatient basis. After the surgery, nasal packing is inserted to prevent excessive postoperative bleeding. During the surgery, badly deviated portions of the septum may be removed entirely, or they may be readjusted and reinserted into the nose.

If a deviated nasal septum is the sole cause for your chronic sinusitis, relief from this severe disorder will be achieved.

 

POST NASAL DRIP

Insight into treating a runny nose

  • What is post-nasal drip?

  • How is swallowing affected?

  • How is it treated?

  • and more…

Glands in your nose and throat continually produce mucus (one to two quarts a day). Mucus moistens and cleans the nasal membranes, humidifies air, traps and clears inhaled foreign matter, and fights infection. Although it is normally swallowed unconsciously, the feeling of it accumulating in the throat or dripping from the back of your nose is called post-nasal drip. This sensation can be caused by excessively thick secretions or by throat muscle and swallowing disorders.

 

What causes abnormal secretions?

Thin secretions:

Increased thin clear secretions can be due to colds and flu, allergies, cold temperatures, bright lights, certain foods/spices, pregnancy, and other hormonal changes. Various drugs (including birth control pills and high blood pressure medications) and structural abnormalities can also produce increased secretions. These abnormalities might include a deviated or irregular nasal septum (the cartilage and bony dividing wall that separates the two nostrils).

 

Thick secretions:

Increased thick secretions in the winter often result from dryness in heated buildings and homes. They can also result from sinus or nose infections and allergies, especially to foods such as dairy products. If thin secretions become thick, and turn green or yellow, it is likely that a bacterial sinus infection is developing. In children, thick secretions from one side of the nose can mean that something is stuck in the nose such as a bean, wadded paper, or piece of toy. If these symptoms are observed, seek a physician for examination.

 

How is swallowing affected?

Swallowing problems may result in accumulation of solids or liquids in the throat that may complicate or feel like post-nasal drip. When the nerves and muscles in the mouth, throat, and food passage (esophagus) aren't interacting properly, overflow secretions can spill into the voice box (larynx) and breathing passages (trachea and bronchi), causing hoarseness, throat clearing, or coughing.

Several factors contribute to swallowing problems:

  • With age, swallowing muscles often lose strength and coordination, making it difficult for even normal secretions to pass smoothly into the stomach.

  • During sleep, swallowing occurs much less frequently, and secretions may gather. Coughing and vigorous throat clearing are often needed upon waking.

  • When nervous or under stress, throat muscles can trigger spasms that make it feel as if there is a lump in the throat. Frequent throat clearing, which usually produces little or no mucus, can make the problem worse by increasing irritation.

  • Growths or swelling in the food passage can slow or prevent the movement of liquids and/or solids.

Swallowing problems may also be caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is when a backup of stomach contents and acid gets into the esophagus or throat. Heartburn, indigestion, and sore throat are common symptoms. GERD may be aggravated by lying down, especially following eating. Hiatal hernia, a pouch-like tissue mass where the esophagus meets the stomach, often contributes to the reflux.

 

How is the throat affected?

Post-nasal drip often leads to a sore, irritated throat. Although there is usually no infection, the tonsils and other tissues in the throat may swell. This can cause discomfort or a feeling that there is a lump in the throat. Successful treatment of the post-nasal drip will usually clear up these throat symptoms.

 

How is it treated?

A correct diagnosis requires a detailed ear, nose, and throat exam, and possibly laboratory, endoscopic (procedures that use a tube to look inside the body), and x-ray studies. Treatment varies according to the following causes:

  • Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. These drugs may only provide temporary relief. In cases of chronic sinusitis, surgery to open the blocked sinuses may be required.

  • Allergies are managed by avoiding the causes. Antihistamines and decongestants, cromolyn and steroid (cortisone type) nasal sprays, and other forms of steroids may offer relief. Immunotherapy, either by shots or sublingual (under the tongue drops) may also be helpful. However, some older, sedating antihistamines may dry and thicken post-nasal secretions even more; newer nonsedating antihistamines, available by prescription only, do not have this effect. Decongestants can aggravate high blood pressure, heart, and thyroid disease. Steroid sprays may be used safely under medical supervision. Oral and injectable steroids rarely produce serious complications in short-term use. Because significant side-effects can occur, steroids must be monitored carefully when used for more than one week.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux is treated by elevating the head of the bed six to eight inches, avoiding foods and beverages for two to three hours before bedtime, and eliminating alcohol and caffeine from the daily diet. Antacids such as Maalox®, Mylanta®, Gaviscon® and drugs that block stomach acid production such as Zantac®, Tagamet®, or Pepcid®) may be prescribed. If these are not successful, stronger medications can be prescribed. Trial treatments are usually suggested before x-rays and other diagnostic studies are performed.

General measures that allow mucus secretions to pass more easily may be recommended when it is not possible to determine the cause. Many people, especially older persons, need more fluids to thin out secretions. Drinking more water, eliminating caffeine, and avoiding diuretics (medications that increase urination) will help. Mucous-thinning agents such as guaifenesin (Humibid®, Robitussin®) may also thin secretions. Nasal irrigations may alleviate thickened secretions. These can be performed two to four times a day either with a nasal douche device or a Water Pik® with a nasal irrigation nozzle. Warm water with baking soda or salt (½ to 1 tsp. to the pint) or Alkalol®, a nonprescription irrigating solution (full strength or diluted by half warm water), may be helpful. Finally, use of simple saline (salt) nonprescription nasal sprays (e.g., Ocean®, Ayr®, or Nasal®) to moisten the nose is often very beneficial.

 

Sinus Conditions

Sinuses are air-filled cavities in the skull. They drain into the nose through small openings. Blockages in the openings from swelling due to colds, flu, or allergies may lead to acute sinus infection. A viral cold that persists for 10 days or more may have become a bacterial sinus infection. This infection may increase post-nasal drip. If you suspect that you have a sinus infection, you should see your physician to see if it needs antibiotic treatment.

Chronic sinusitis occurs when sinus blockages persist, causing the lining of the sinuses to swell further. Polyps (growths in the nose) may develop with chronic sinusitis. Patients with polyps tend to have irritating, persistent post-nasal drip. Evaluation by an otolaryngologist may include an exam of the interior of the nose with a fiberoptic scope and CAT scan x-rays. If medication does not relieve the problem, surgery may be recommended.

 

Vasomotor Rhinitis describes a nonallergic "hyperirritable nose" that feels congested, blocked, or wet.

 

SNORING

Insight into sleeping disorders and sleep apnea

Forty-five percent of normal adults snore at least occasionally and 25 percent are habitual snorers. Problem snoring is more frequent in males and overweight people and usually worsens with age. Snoring may be an indication of obstructed breathing and should not be taken lightly. An otolaryngologist can help you to determine where the anatomic source of your snoring may be, and offer solutions for this noisy and often embarrassing behavior.

 

What causes snoring?

The noisy sounds of snoring occur when there is an obstruction to the free flow of air through the passages at the back of the mouth and nose. This area is the collapsible part of the airway where the tongue and upper throat meet the soft palate and uvula. Snoring occurs when these structures strike each other and vibrate during breathing.

In children, snoring may be a sign of problems with the tonsils and adenoids. A chronically snoring child should be examined by an otolaryngologist, who may recommend a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy to return the child to full health.

 

People who snore may suffer from:

  • Poor muscle tone in the tongue and throat: When muscles are too relaxed, the tongue falls backwards into the airway or the throat muscles draw in from the sides into the airway. Some relaxation is natural during deep sleep, but may become a problem if exacerbated by alcohol or drugs that cause sleepiness

  • Excessive bulkiness of throat tissue: Children with large tonsils and adenoids often snore. Overweight people may have excess soft tissue in the neck that can lead to airway narrowing. Cysts or tumors are rare causes of airway narrowing.

  • Long soft palate and/or uvula: A long palate narrows the opening from the nose into the throat. The excessive length of the soft palate and/or uvula acts as a noisy flutter valve during relaxed breathing.

  • Obstructed nasal airways: A stuffy or blocked nose requires extra effort to pull air through it. This creates an exaggerated vacuum in the throat that pulls together the floppy tissues of the throat, and snoring results. So snoring may only occur during the hay fever season or with a cold or sinus infection. Also, deformities of the nose or nasal septum, such as a deviated septum (a deformity of the wall that separates one nostril from the other) can cause such an obstruction.

 

Why is snoring serious?

Socially - Snoring can make the snorer an object of ridicule and can cause the bed partner to experience sleepless nights and fatigue.

Medically - It disturbs sleeping patterns and deprives the snorer of adequate rest.  It may be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which can lead to serious, long-term health problems.

 

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

Snoring may be a sign of a more serious condition known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).  OSA is characterized by multiple episodes of breathing pauses greater than 10 seconds at a time, due to upper airway narrowing or collapse. This results in lower amounts of oxygen in the blood, which causes the heart to work harder. It also causes disruption of the natural sleep cycle, which makes people feel poorly rested despite adequate time in bed. Apnea patients may experience 30 to 300 such events per night.

The immediate effect of sleep apnea is that the snorer must sleep lightly and keep the throat muscles tense in order to keep airflow to the lungs. Because the snorer does not get a good rest, he or she may be sleepy during the day, which impairs job performance and makes him or her a hazardous driver or equipment operator. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of developing heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and many other medical problems.

 

How is heavy snoring evaluated?

Heavy snorers should seek medical advice to ensure that sleep apnea is not a problem. Heavy snorers include people who snore constantly in any position or who negatively impact a bed partner’s sleep. An otolaryngologist will provide a thorough examination of the nose, mouth, throat, palate, and neck, often using a fiberoptic scope. An examination can reveal if the snoring is caused by nasal allergy, infection, nasal obstruction, or enlargement of tonsils and adenoids.  A sleep study in a laboratory or at home may be necessary to determine if snoring is due to OSA.
All snorers with any of the following symptoms should be evaluated for possible obstructive sleep apnea:

  • Witnessed episodes of breath pauses or apnea during sleep

  • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart disease

  • History of a stroke

 

What treatments are available?

Treatment depends on the diagnosis and level(s) of upper airway narrowing. In some cases, more than one area may be involved.

Snoring or OSA may respond to various treatments offered by many otolaryngologist—head and neck surgeons:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea is most often treated with a device that opens the airway with a small amount of positive pressure. This pressure is delivered via a nasal mask worn during sleep. This treatment is called CPAP; it is currently the initial treatment of choice for patients with OSA.

  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is surgery for treating snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. It removes excess soft palate tissue and opens the airway. In addition, the remaining tissue stiffens as it heals, thereby minimizing tissue vibration. The size of the air passage may be further enlarged when a tonsillectomy is added to the procedure.

  • Thermal ablation procedures reduce tissue bulk in the nasal turbinates, tongue base, and/or soft palate. These procedures are used for both snoring and OSA. Different methods of thermal ablation include bipolar cautery, laser, and radiofrequency. These procedures may be done in the operating room or during an office visit. Several treatments may be required.

  • Methods to increase the stiffness of the soft palate without removing tissue include injecting an irritating substance that causes stiffness in the injected area near the uvula.  Another method is inserting stiffening rods (Pillar implants) into the soft palate.

  • Genioglossus and hyoid advancement is a surgical procedure for the treatment of sleep apnea. It prevents collapse of the lower throat and pulls the tongue muscles forward, thereby opening the obstructed airway.

  • A custom-fit oral appliance, which repositions the lower jaw forward, may also be considered for certain patients with snoring/ OSA. This should be fitted by an otolaryngologist, dentist, or oral surgeon with expertise in sleep dentistry.

  • In some patients, significant weight loss can also improve snoring and OSA.

 

Do you recommend the use of over-the-counter devices?

There is no specific device recommended. More than 300 devices are registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as cures for snoring. Different methods include products that help a person avoid sleeping on their back, since snoring is often worse in that position. Some devices open nasal air passages; others have been designed to condition a person not to snore by producing unpleasant stimuli when snoring occurs. While a person may find a product that works for him or her, underlying poor sleep quality may remain.

 

Self-help for the light snorer

Adults who suffer from mild or occasional snoring should try the following self-help remedies:

  • Adopt a healthy and athletic lifestyle to develop good muscle tone and lose weight.

  • Avoid tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and antihistamines before bedtime.

  • Avoid alcohol for at least four hours and heavy meals or snacks for three hours before retiring.

  • Establish regular sleeping patterns.

  • Sleep on your side rather than your back.

  • Elevate the head of your bed four inches.

 

SINUS SURGERY

The ear, nose, and throat specialist will prescribe many medications (antibiotics, decongestants, nasal steroid sprays, antihistamines) and procedures (flushing) for treating acute sinusitis. There are occasions when physician and patient find that the infections are recurrent and/or non-responsive to the medication. When this occurs, surgery to enlarge the openings that drain the sinuses is an option.

A recommendation for sinus surgery in the early 20th century would easily alarm the patient. In that era, the surgeon would have to perform an invasive procedure, reaching the sinuses by entering through the cheek area, often resulting in scarring and possible disfigurement. Today, these concerns have been eradicated with the latest advances in medicine. A trained surgeon can now treat sinusitis with minimal discomfort, a brief convalescence, and few complications.

A clinical history of the patient will be created before any surgery is performed. A careful diagnostic workup is necessary to identify the underlying cause of acute or chronic sinusitis, which is often found in the anterior ethmoid area, where the maxillary and frontal sinuses connect with the nose. This may necessitate a sinus computed tomography (CT) scan (without contrast), nasal physiology (rhinomanometry and nasal cytology), smell testing, and selected blood tests to determine an operative strategy. Note: Sinus X–rays have limited utility in the diagnosis of acute sinusitis and are of no value in the evaluation of chronic sinusitis.

 

Sinus Surgical Options Include:

Functional endoscopic sinus surgery (FESS): Developed in the 1950s, the nasal endoscope has revolutionized sinusitis surgery. In the past, the surgical strategy was to remove all sinus mucosa from the major sinuses. The use of an endoscope is linked to the theory that the best way to obtain normal healthy sinuses is to open the natural pathways to the sinuses. Once an improved drainage system is achieved, the diseased sinus mucosa has an opportunity to return to normal.

FESS involves the insertion of the endoscope, a very thin fiber-optic tube, into the nose for a direct visual examination of the openings into the sinuses. With state of the art micro-telescopes and instruments, abnormal and obstructive tissues are then removed. In the majority of cases, the surgical procedure is performed entirely through the nostrils, leaving no external scars. There is little swelling and only mild discomfort.

The advantage of the procedure is that the surgery is less extensive, there is often less removal of normal tissues, and can frequently be performed on an outpatient basis. After the operation, the patient will sometimes have nasal packing. Ten days after the procedure, nasal irrigation may be recommended to prevent crusting.

Image guided surgery: The sinuses are physically close to the brain, the eye, and major arteries, always areas of concern when a fiber optic tube is inserted into the sinus region. The growing use of a new technology, image guided endoscopic surgery, is alleviating that concern. This type of surgery may be recommended for severe forms of chronic sinusitis, in cases when previous sinus surgery has altered anatomical landmarks, or where a patient’s sinus anatomy is very unusual, making typical surgery difficult.

Image guidance is a near-three-dimensional mapping system that combines computed tomography (CT) scans and real-time information about the exact position of surgical instruments using infrared signals. In this way, surgeons can navigate their surgical instruments through complex sinus passages and provide surgical relief more precisely. Image guidance uses some of the same stealth principles used by the United States armed forces to guide bombs to their target.

Caldwell Luc operation: Another option is the Caldwell-Luc operation, which relieves chronic sinusitis by improving the drainage of the maxillary sinus, one of the cavities beneath the eye. The maxillary sinus is entered through the upper jaw above one of the second molar teeth. A “window” is created to connect the maxillary sinus with the nose, thus improving drainage. The operation is named after American physician George Caldwell and French laryngologist Henry Luc and is most often performed when a malignancy is present in the sinus cavity.

 

MOUTH SORES

Insight into causes, treatment, and prevention

  • What are fever blisters and cold sores?

  • What are canker sores?

  • When should a physician be consulted?

  • and more...

Oral lesions (mouth sores) make it painful to eat and talk. Two of the most common recurrent oral lesions are fever blisters (also known as cold sores) and canker sores. Though similar, fever blisters and canker sores have important differences.

 

What are fever blisters?

Fever blisters are fluid-filled blisters that commonly occur on the lips. They also can occur on the gums and roof of the mouth (hard palate), but this is rare. Fever blisters are usually painful; pain may precede the appearance of the lesion by a few days. The blisters rupture within hours, then crust over. They last about seven to ten days.

 

Why do fever blisters reoccur?

Fever blisters result from a herpes simplex virus that becomes active. This virus is latent (dormant) in afflicted people, but can be activated by conditions such as stress, fever, trauma, hormonal changes, and exposure to sunlight. When lesions reappear, they tend to form in the same location.

 

Are fever blisters contagious?

Yes, the time from blister rupture until the sore is completely healed is the time of greatest risk for spread of infection. The virus can spread to the afflicted person’s eyes and genitalia, as well as to other people.

 

How are fever blisters treated?

Treatment consists of coating the lesions with a protective barrier ointment containing an antiviral agent, for example 5% acyclovir ointment. While there is no cure now, scientists are trying to develop one, so hopefully fever blisters will be a curable disorder in the future.

 

Tips to prevent spreading fever blisters

  • Avoid mucous membrane contact when a lesion is present.

  • Do not squeeze, pinch, or pick the blisters.

  • Wash hands carefully before touching eyes, genital area, or another person.

Note: Despite all caution, it is possible to transmit herpes virus even when no blisters are present.

 

What are canker sores?

Canker sores (also called aphthous ulcers) are different than fever blisters. They are small, red or white, shallow ulcers occurring on the tongue, soft palate, or inside the lips and cheeks; they do not occur in the roof of the mouth or the gums. They are quite painful, and usually last 5-10 days.

 

Who is most likely to get canker sores, and what causes them?

Eighty percent of the U.S. population between the ages of 10 to 20, most often women, get canker sores. The best available evidence suggests that canker sores result from an altered local immune response associated with stress, trauma, or irritation. Acidic foods (e.g., tomatoes, citrus fruits, and some nuts) are known to cause irritation in some patients.

 

Are canker sores contagious? How are they treated?

Because they are not caused by bacteria or viral agents, they are not contagious and cannot be spread locally or to anyone else. Treatment is directed toward relieving discomfort and guarding against infection. A topical corticosteroid preparation such as triamcinolone dental paste (Kenalog in Orabase 0.1%®) is helpful.

 

When should a physician be consulted?

Consider consulting a physician if a mouth sore has not healed within two weeks. Mouth sores offer an easy way for germs and viruses to get into the body, so it is easy for infections to develop.

People who consume alcohol, smokers, smokeless tobacco users, chemotherapy or radiation patients, bone marrow or stem cell recipients, or patients with weak immune systems should also consider having regular oral screenings by a physician. The first sign of oral cancer is a mouth sore that does not heal.

 

What kind of screenings are performed?

The physician will most likely examine the head, face, neck, lips, gums, and high-risk areas inside the mouth, such as the floor of the mouth, the area under the tongue, the front and sides of the tongue, and the roof of the mouth or soft palate. If a suspicious lesion is found, the physician may recommend collecting and testing soft tissue from the oral cavity.

 

What are other types of oral lesions to be concerned about?

Leukoplakia - A thick, whitish-color patch that forms on the inside of the cheeks, gums, or tongue. These patches are caused by excess cell growth and are common among tobacco users. They can result from irritations such as ill-fitting dentures or the habit of chewing on the inside of the cheek. Leukoplakia can progress to cancer.

Candidiasis - A fungal infection (also called moniliasis or oral thrush) that occurs when yeast reproduce in large numbers. It is common among denture wearers and most often occurs in people who are very young, elderly, debilitated by disease, or who have a problem with their immune system. People who have dry mouth syndrome are very susceptible to candidiasis. Candida may flourish after antibiotic treatment, which can decrease normal bacteria in the mouth.

Hairy tongue - A relatively rare condition caused by the elongation of the taste buds. It can be caused by poor oral hygiene, chronic oral irritation, or smoking.

Torus palatinus - A hard bony growth in the center of the roof of the mouth (palate). It commonly occurs in females over the age of 30 and rarely needs treatment. A torus palatinus is often seen in patients who suffer from tooth grinding. Occasionally it is removed for the proper fitting of dentures.

Oral cancer - It may appear as a white or red patch of tissue in the mouth, or a small ulcer that looks like a common canker sore. Other than the lips, the most common areas for oral cancer to develop are on the tongue and the floor of the mouth. Other symptoms include a lump or mass that can be felt inside the mouth or neck; pain or difficulty in swallowing, speaking, or chewing; any wart-like mass; hoarseness that lasts for more than two weeks; or any numbness in the oral/facial region.

Tips to prevent mouth sores

  • Stop smoking.

  • Reduce stress.

  • Avoid injury to the mouth caused by hard tooth brushing, hard foods, braces, or dentures.

  • Chew slowly.

  • Practice good dental hygiene, including regular visits to the dentist.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet.

  • Identify and eliminate food sensitivities.

  • Drink plenty of water.

  • Avoid very hot food or beverages.

  • Follow nutritional guidelines for multivitamin supplements.