What is allergic rhinitis?
As your nose filters, warms and adds moisture to the air you breathe, it is exposed to a wide array of allergens, such as pollen, mold and animal dander. Although these allergens are not dangerous, in certain people they trigger inflammation, which is part of the body’s natural defense against outside invaders.
Allergic rhinitis occurs when the delicate mucus membranes lining the nasal cavity become inflamed. Symptoms may include nasal congestion, sneezing, itching and clear discharge. More than an unpleasant nuisance, allergic rhinitis can develop into a number of other, more serious health conditions.
“Although anatomically the nose is a separate structure, the airway is unified by chemical signals, and that is the reason why patients with allergic rhinitis can also have symptoms in other places,” said Camilo Reyes Gelves, MD, rhinology and endoscopic skull base surgeon, head and neck surgeon, plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Augusta University Health. “Patients with allergic rhinitis are at increased risk of asthma, sinusitis, otitis media, sleep apnea, dental problems, allergic conjunctivitis and eustachian tube dysfunction.”
The link between allergic rhinitis and sinusitis
Sinusitis, also called sinus infection, is one of the most common complications of allergic rhinitis. Infection develops as a result of an inflammation of the mucosa that lines the paranasal sinuses, resulting in persistent nasal obstruction, postnasal discharge, foul odor, loss of smell and facial pain/pressure.
In some cases, sinusitis is the result of a structural problem within the nose, such as a deviated septum (a structure that divides the nostrils) or enlarged or displaced turbinates (fleshy air filters inside the nose). In other cases, when allergies are severe enough, nasal polyps are a result of a chronic inflammatory reaction which can cause or worsen a sinus infection.
How surgery can help
While surgery cannot cure allergies, it can help prevent rhinitis from progressing to sinusitis. Surgery promotes improved airflow and sinus drainage by correcting structural problems in the nasal passages and/or removing polyps or other obstructions. This helps make allergy therapies more effective.
“Any surgery that can improve medication delivery to the nose will help with allergy treatment,” Dr. Reyes Gelves said. “Procedures such as straightening a deviated septum and sinus surgery can improve symptom control, nasal breathing, topical medication delivery and overall quality of life.”