Prevention and Wellness

Answers to Common Ear, Nose, and Throat Questions

Premier Health Specialists’ doctors answer frequently asked questions about ear, nose, and throat health.

What is sinusitis?

Sinusitis – also known as rhinosinusitis – is when the paranasal sinuses become inflamed, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff   Site Icon (NIH). It is caused by an infection from bacteria, fungus, or a virus.

Healthy sinuses are able to drain out, allowing air to flow through them, according to the NIH. They contain no bacteria or germs.

When the openings of the sinuses become blocked or mucus builds up, it allows germs and bacteria to grow, according to the NIH.

For more information about sinusitis, talk with your doctor.

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How are sinusitis symptoms different from a cold or allergies?

Sinusitis is a condition that can often be mistaken for a cold or allergies.

Like a cold and allergies, sinusitis has symptoms including headaches, facial pain, a runny nose, and nasal congestion, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and ImmunologyOff Site Icon (ACAAI).

But, unlike a cold, sinusitis symptoms can be caused by a bacterial infection and often times can require antibiotics to treat, according to the ACAAI.

Sinusitis can be caused by allergies, especially if you frequently use a decongestant nasal spray, according to the American Academy of Family PhysiciansOff Site Icon (AAFP).

For more information about how sinusitis is different from a cold and allergies, talk with your doctor.

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How is sinusitis treated?

Sinusitis can be treated in a variety of ways. If you think you have sinusitis, talk with your doctor to decide what option is best for you.

Your doctor, according to the American Academy of Family PhysiciansOff Site Icon (AAFP), might recommend that you:

  • Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease the pain
  • Take an antibiotic
  • Use a prescription nasal spray to help treat inflammation
  • Use saline nasal spray to help clear congestion

Aside from that, the AAFP recommends steps you can take to ease the discomfort while you recover from sinusitis, which include:

  • Avoid alcohol, which can make sinus swelling worse
  • Breath in steam through a cloth or towel
  • Don’t use nasal sprays containing decongestant for more than three days at a time
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Get lots of rest
  • Put a warm, wet towel on your face
  • Sip hot liquids
  • When lying down, use extra pillows to prop yourself up to ease some pressure

For more information about treating sinusitis, talk with your doctor.

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What are smell and taste disorders?

Dr. Adam discusses smell and taste disorders. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Smell and taste disorders are issues that occur when a person’s sense of smell and/or sense of taste don’t work the way they should.

Because the use of smell and taste are so closely connected that one of these senses not working well usually causes the other to also not work well, according to the American Rhinologic SocietyOff Site Icon (ARS).

For example, patients who have a loss of taste typically also suffer from loss of smell, according to the ARS. A majority of the flavors people taste in food come from the sense of smell.

There aren’t a specific set of smell and taste disorders, according to Premier Health Specialists’ (PHS) physicians. Smell and taste disorders are on more of a spectrum.

Sometimes smell and taste are affected by a short-term nasal issue, such as sinusitis, while other times, they are lost completely because of more major head or neck issues, according to PHS physicians.

Smell and taste disorders are common and affect about 2 million people in the U.S., according to the ARS.

For more information about smell and taste disorders, talk with your doctor.

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Who is at risk for developing smell and taste disorders?

Dr. Adam discusses who is at risk for developing smell and taste disorders. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

It has been shown that people start to lose their sense of smell after age 60, according to the American Academy of OtolaryngologyOff Site Icon (AAO).

People who have chronic sinus diseases, especially those with polyps, are at risk of having smell and taste disorders, according to Premier Health Specialists’ (PHS) physicians. The polyps grow along the lining of the nose and block smells from getting to the part of the nose where smell is perceived.

Also, people chronically suffering with allergic rhinitis from allergies and hay fever can be at increased risk of smell and taste disorders, according to PHS physicians.

Hormonal disturbances and dental problems also can increase someone’s risk of smell and taste disorders, according to the AAO. Being exposed to some kinds of chemicals, insecticides, and medicines can cause this kind of polyps.

People who have smoked and radiation therapy patients both are at higher risk of losing their senses of smell and taste, according to the AAO. Some nervous system diseases also can cause smell and taste disorders.

To learn more about who is at increased risk for smell and taste disorders, talk with your doctor.

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What are treatment options for smell and taste disorders?

Dr. Adam discusses treatment options for smell and taste disorders. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

If you have a smell and taste disorder caused by an allergy or other nasal inflammation, your PCP might be able to prescribe or alter a medication to take care of the smell and taste issues, according to the American Rhinologic SocietyOff Site Icon (ARS).

If polyps are the cause of your smell and taste disorder, they can be removed to improve your smell and taste, according to the ARS.

However, for some chronic neck and head conditions, such as chronic rhinosinusitis, the smell and taste disorder could be permanent, according to the ARS.

Oral steroids can sometimes benefit these patients who have had permanent loss of taste and smell, but not in all situations, according to the ARS.

Talk to your doctor for more information about treating loss of smell and taste.

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What is the difference between prescription nasal sprays and over-the-counter sprays?

There are nasal steroids that are available both by prescription and over-the-counter – such as Nasacort and Flonase – that are recommended to be used for long-term conditions, such as seasonal rhinitis and chronic sinusitis, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

These types of sprays help relieve sneezing, runny nose, itchy nose and stuffiness, according to the NIH. It can take a couple weeks of daily use to feel the full benefit of these nasal sprays.

Other over-the-counter nasal sprays, such as Afrin and Neo-Synephrine, work almost immediately, but are only supposed to be used for short-term relief, according to the NIH.

These decongestants reduce nasal swelling and ease discomfort but shouldn’t be used for more than three days, according to the NIH.

They can seem helpful, but when they wear off quickly, patients can become addicted to using them more and more often to find the same relief, according to the NIH.

For more information about the difference between prescription and over-the-counter nasal sprays, talk with your doctor.

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Should a patient seek medical advice prior to getting an over-the-counter nasal spray?

Before choosing an over-the-counter nasal spray to use, it is important to talk with your primary care provider, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH).

Just like with any other medication, different nasal sprays can have better results for different people. Your PCP can help you choose the best option for you.

Talk to your doctor for more information about which over-the-counter nasal spray would be best for you.

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What are things a person should keep in mind when choosing the right nasal spray?

Before choosing any nasal spray, you should visit with your primary care provider to determine your diagnosis, according to Premier Health Specialists’ (PHS) physicians. 

Steroid nasal sprays can cause problems with the septum if not sprayed at the correct angle, according to PHS physicians. Other over-the-counter sprays, such as Afrin, cause a rebound effect that leads to overuse.

Saline nasal spray, which rewets the nasal cavity, is the best option for some people, according to PHS physicians. It can be used as needed and has no addictive qualities.

Talk to your doctor about your personal health and what is important for you to keep in mind when choosing a nasal spray.

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What does it mean when someone says they are “losing their voice?”

Dr. Laura Tully discusses what it means when someone says they’re “losing their voice.” Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

When someone says they’re losing their voice, it means they are having a hard time talking because of hoarseness.

Hoarseness can describe voice roughness or breathiness or an increased effort or strain when you’re trying to talk, Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians say.

“Losing your voice” can also come along with some pain when trying to speak. Talk to your doctor for more information about what “losing your voice” means.

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What are the most common causes for laryngitis?

Dr. Laura Tully discusses the most common causes of laryngitis. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

   

Laryngitis happens when your vocal cords become inflamed or infected and swell. This can cause hoarseness – or losing your voice, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesOff Site Icon (HHS).

The most common kind of laryngitis is an infection caused by a virus. Other causes of laryngitis include:

  • Allergies
  • Bacterial infection
  • Bronchitis
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Injury
  • Irritants and chemicals
  • Respiratory infection
  • For more information about the causes of laryngitis, talk with your doctor.

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Should laryngitis ever be a cause for concern?

Dr. Laura Tully discusses whether laryngitis should ever be a cause for concern. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

   

If you have laryngitis and you start to have some other symptoms, it could be cause for concern.

In some rare cases, laryngitis can cause difficulty breathing and lead to severe respiratory distress, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesOff Site Icon (HHS). If you have difficulty breathing, get medical help right away.

If you lost your voice suddenly because of force, there’s a possibility of a vocal cord hemorrhage, Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians say. This would also be a reason to talk to your doctor right away.

Hoarseness and loss of voice can also be a sign of cancer, especially for smokers who have voice issues for more than two to three weeks. If laryngitis continues and doesn’t go away on its own, it’s time to visit your doctor to investigate the problem.

For more information about whether laryngitis is ever a cause for concern, talk with your doctor.

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What steps can you take to alleviate or soothe laryngitis?

Dr. Laura Tully discusses how to alleviate laryngitis. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

   

Most often, the best thing you can do to help laryngitis is to rest your voice as much as possible, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesOff Site Icon (HHS).

Premier Physician Network (PPN) physicians say it’s important to remember that coughing, clearing your throat, and whispering have the same effect as talking normally. So, it’s best for you to try to avoid doing those things whenever possible.

Viral laryngitis can last one to three weeks, but drinking a lot of fluids to stay hydrated and getting plenty of rest can help in your recovery.

You can also try decongestants and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, to help soothe laryngitis, according to the HHS.

Talk to your doctor for more information about alleviating or soothing laryngitis.

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Source: Stewart Adam, MD, Premier ENT Associates; Jeffrey Adam, MD, Premier ENT Associates; Laura Tully, MD, Premier ENT Associates

Content Updated: July 11, 2018

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