You probably don’t associate sinus infections with wintertime, but for the 37 million Americans who experience them every year, there is no such thing as the “offseason.” In fact, sinus symptoms are often worse in the winter months. Even in South Carolina, where winter weather is far less extreme than in many other parts of the country.
What Triggers Sinus Infections?
Sinusitis, the medical term for sinus infections, can be caused by a variety of factors, both physical and environmental. It is frequently associated with colds and allergies but may also be the result of nasal polyps, deviated septum, facial trauma, immune system disorders, tumors, chemicals and airborne pollutants such as tobacco smoke and smog.
The symptoms of sinusitis are unpleasant, to say the least. Think of it as a cold on steroids: you are likely to suffer from a congested or runny nose, sore throat, postnasal drip, loss of smell and taste, headache, fever and fatigue. As if those weren’t bad enough, you’ll contend with facial pain and pressure – and even bad breath.
Sinusitis is characterized as either acute (lasting a short duration) or chronic. Those whose symptoms persist for twelve weeks or longer fall into the latter category.
Why Do Symptoms Intensify During the Winter Months?
It’s natural to associate sinus infections with springtime, when pollens are most likely to be released into the air thanks to grass, trees and plants that are in full bloom. But they are just as likely in the coldest months of the year due to a variety of factors, including:
- Humidity. Winter brings not only moisture and humidity but also atmospheric pressure changes as weather fronts move through the area, which can cause pain and pressure in the air-filled sinus cavities. Over-the-counter medications and nasal sprays may be used to relieve symptoms.
- Dust. Colder weather means extra sheets and blankets on the bed. After all, you don’t want to freeze to death when the temperature drops below 70°! After spending 6+ months in the linen closet, bedding is most likely going to be dusty. Thoroughly wash and dry it to get rid of excess dust, which is a common trigger of sinusitis.
- Pet Dander. Cats and dogs are faithful four-legged companions, but dander from their fur is a prime trigger of sinus symptoms. To help prevent this, keep Fido and Mittens off the bed (we know this is easier said than done, so you might have to close the door instead). Run the vacuum often to remove dander from carpets and furniture, too.
- Indoor Heating. We have periods throughout the winter months when the heat is kicking on regularly and many of us like to have a fire in the hearth during these cold spells. This intensify sinus symptoms during the winter months by drying out the air and irritating nasal passages. Purchase a HEPA air filter to remove particulates from the air and open windows and doors when it’s not too cold outside to let your house air out.
- Food. We tend to indulge in heavy, rich foods during the winter months. As tasty as these treats are, they can wreak havoc on our sinuses (not to mention our waistlines). Dairy, sugar and alcohol can all trigger inflammation in the body, so limit your consumption of foods containing these ingredients and try to offset them by adding leafy green vegetables and berries to your diet; these provide fiber and antioxidants to help keep you healthy.
- Viruses. Cold and flu viruses can occur year-round but are most common during the winter. They irritate the nasal passage membranes, causing inflammation and congestion that can turn into a sinus infection. Practice good sanitary habits by washing your hands with hot water and soap, get plenty of rest, stick to a healthy diet and always cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough to prevent the spread of germs.
For more tips on preventing sinus infections this winter, talk to your CENTA ear, nose and throat specialist.