After months of cold weather that winter brings, many people welcome spring with open arms. However, for some of us, it also means stuffy noses, watery itchy eyes, sinus pressure, and headaches. For those of us with fibromyalgia, it can also mean our defenses are breaking down and we become fatigued.
We don’t know why, but those of us with fibromyalgia seem to have more problems with chronic sinusitis that others do. It’s like having a cold or virus that never goes away. One study found that inflammation of the nose and sinuses in patients with unexplained chronic fatigue or bodily pain [symptoms of fibromyalgia] could be as significant as the gastrointestinal problems we experience. And, a research review suggests there is a correlation of sinus inflammation in fibromyalgia. The review says in part, “immunoregulatory … such as ILs, cytokines, nerve growth factor,” [upsets seen in fibromyalgia] “linked with rhinitis, TNF-alpha, and L-selectin suggests that pathophysiology is a product of the inflammatory response system.”
In other words, because our body is already on the inflammation highway, it could explain why we become more fatigued than others with chronic sinusitis do. Knowing there is an explanation and knowing how our sinuses do their job is helpful, because we don’t fear what we know.
Battling the trifecta
We have four sinuses around our face and head—each connected to our nasal passages by small canals. The tiny hairs in our nose filters air as it enters our body and our sinuses produce mucus that moisturizes our air passages to keep them healthy so we are protected from dust, microorganisms, and other unwanted invaders. Any blockages, such as polyps, nasal septum deviation, or swelling and inflammation from allergens, bacteria, fungi, or other germs interfere with sinus function.
As spring arrives, so do our archenemies – allergens, flying dust, and winds that dry up our air passageways. In an effort to keep up with the added demand, our sinuses can overreact and secrete excess mucous which leads to a runny nose and rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal passages). Allergens also cause the release of histamines and we are off and running. Our air passages shrivel up like dried prunes and our sinuses feel like overfilled inner tubes that cause sinus pressure and those headaches that often accompany fibromyalgia. So what can we do?
- Avoid overuse of vascular constrictors such as "Afrin ®,” because they also cause rebound swelling.
- Use a steroid nasal spray. Steroids decrease inflammation, but pay attention to how your body reacts. These over the counter sprays can cause symptoms too.
- Periodic use of nasal/sinus saline rinse devices, as advised by your doctor.
- Saline nasal sprays. They are portable and hydrate nasal passages.
- Antihistamines if you have reactions to known allergens. Be aware that antihistamines cause dryness, so hydrate by drinking plenty of water.
- Decongestants may help, but observe the precautions, because certain people should not use them.
- Steroid injections may be given by your doctor if indicated.
Other problems, such as obstruction, allergies, yeast or infection may need to be investigated. Expect that you might undergo:
- Allergy testing.
- Nasal endoscopy. A scope made of flexible tubing with a camera on the end, is put into, endo, nasal passages to look for abnormalities.
- A CT scan or an MRI (Both provide Imaging of sinuses that are not accessible with an endoscope.)
- A culture of nasal secretions to look for pathogens, such as bacteria or fungi.
- A consultation with an ear, nose, and throat doctor, should surgery be necessary.
If symptoms become worse or different, see your doctor, there may be things that have changed, such as a physical obstruction, development of new allergies, your environment, or other things we have discussed. Managing chronic sinusitis and any other known overlapping conditions with fibromyalgia not only helps us feel better, it gives us a sense of empowerment because there is something we can do to help ourselves.
If you have this problem or have questions, please leave them in the comments below. I love learning from you.
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Celeste Cooper, R.N., is a freelance writer focusing on chronic pain and fibromyalgia. She is lead author of Integrative therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain and the Broken Body, Wounded Spirit: Balancing the See-Saw of Chronic Pain book series. She enjoys her family, writing and advocating, photography, and nature. Connect with Celeste through her website CelesteCooper.com, Twitter @FibroCFSWarrior, or follow her Facebook page.