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What Happens if you Let a Sinus Infection go Untreated?

In most cases, sinus infection goes away on its own. However, if it lingers or keeps rearing its ugly head and you still keep overlooking it, a sinus infection can lead to potentially grave complications.

The possibility for serious health risks stems from the fact that your sinuses are too close to other parts of your body, especially your brain and eyes.

Here’s a list of some important complications that can arise as a result of an untreated sinus infection.

1. Reduced or Complete Loss of the Sense of Smell

Untreated sinus infection can diminish or completely deprive you of your sense of smell (called anosmia). This can be due to inflammation and blockage of your nasal passages, or damage to the olfactory nerve.

Though the loss of smell from a sinus infection is often transient, it can be permanent in severe cases, wreaking havoc on the quality of your life and overall wellbeing. 

2. Difficulty Breathing

Sinusitis causes nasal and sinus congestion, which can make it difficult for you to breathe through your nose. If the inflammation gets better and the blocked sinuses start to drain, the breathing will become easier.

Difficulty breathing from a long-standing sinus infection can also make you feel fatigued, as it interferes with the delivery of enough oxygen to your body.

3. Inflammation of your Voice Box, aka Larynx (Laryngitis)

Untreated sinusitis can cause the thickened mucus to continuously drip down the back of your throat, which, over time, can irritate your voice box and contribute to dry cough and hoarseness.

4. Dacryocystitis

It is an inflammation or infection of the tear sac usually due to blockage of your tear duct. Long-standing sinus infection can spread to your eyes, including your tear sac — a tiny chamber draining your tears, located in the inner corner of your eye. Tears drain through this sac as they exit the surface of your eyes.

Dacryocystitis causes tearing, along with pain, redness, and swelling in the inner corner of the affected eye and warrants antibiotic treatment.

5. Orbital cellulitis/abscess

Another rare but serious complication of an untreated sinus infection is an inflammation or infection of the eye socket (aka orbit) — a condition called orbital cellulitis. This sight-and-life-threatening condition may arise because of the direct spread of infection from your sinuses via their thin walls, or as a repercussion of dacryocystitis.

Infection of the ethmoid sinuses — that lie between your nose and eyes — is more likely to spread to your eye socket because of their thin walls.

While this condition typically affects kids and young adults, a delay in diagnosis and treatment is a threat to both vision and life in all age groups. Untreated orbital infection can spread to the protective coverings around your brain and spinal cord as well as past your brain.

Orbital cellulitis causes fever, along with extreme pain, swelling, redness, and bulging of your eyelid, and possibly eyebrow and cheek. It may also lead to the formation of pus inside the eye socket.

Orbital cellulitis requires prompt hospitalization and may even necessitate surgery if the response to appropriate antibiotics has been poor within 24-48 hours.

6. Cavernous sinus thrombosis

When the sinus infection spreads to your brain, your body’s defense mechanisms create a clot in an attempt to contain the infection.

Though a very rare complication of chronic sinusitis, cavernous sinus thrombosis is a threat to life when it does emerge. It is a condition in which a blood clot forms inside the cavernous sinus — a hollow space at the base of the brain that functions to drain blood from your brain and face.

Cavernous sinus thrombosis presents with:

  •   a sharp, severe headache that worsens progressively, and often occurs with tearing
  •   facial pain, more localized around your eyes
  •   high-grade fever
  •   double vision
  •   paralysis of eye muscles, resulting in an inability to move your eyes or causing your eyelids to droop
  •   a bulging and swollen eyelid
  •   loss of vision
  •   seizures and death (in severe cases)

The cornerstone of treatment for cavernous sinus thrombosis is early and aggressive antibiotic therapy.

7. Meningitis

Left untreated, a sinus infection has the potential to spread to your meninges (the protective coverings around your brain and spinal cord), causing them to become inflamed — a condition called meningitis.

Meningitis gives rise to the following signs and symptoms:

  •   Sudden, high-grade fever
  •   Neck stiffness
  •   Extremely severe headache, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting
  •   Unusual sensitivity to bright light
  •   Drowsiness and lethargy
  •   Seizures

The condition requires intervention by a neurologist and is diagnosed by its clinical signs and symptoms. Meningitis is confirmed by withdrawing the clear fluid that bathes your brain and spinal cord — a procedure called lumbar puncture, in addition to imaging modalities, such as CT and MRI scans.

While the early institution of antibiotic therapy can help address the problem, sinusitis complicated by meningitis may still pose a serious threat.

8. Subdural Abscess

A chronic sinus infection can often lead to the collection of pus (aka abscess) in a potential space between the outer and middle layers of your meninges (the subdural space), defining a condition known as the subdural abscess.

Subdural abscess gives rise to signs and symptoms that resemble meningitis, along with changes in mental status, such as confusion and irritability. The condition progresses rapidly and calls for prompt diagnosis, treatment, and often surgical drainage to stave off coma and death from the rapidly rising pressure within your brain.

9. Frontal bone osteomyelitis

The frontal bone is a bone of your skull that occupies the forehead region. Osteomyelitis is an infection of a bone. Frontal bone osteomyelitis (aka Pott’s puffy tumor) is a potential local complication of a sinus infection of the paired frontal sinuses, located in the frontal bones above your eyebrows.

When infection from your frontal sinuses extend to the bones in which they lie, signs and symptoms that mimic meningitis arise. However, it’s imperative to distinguish between the two conditions, as lumbar puncture cannot be done with frontal bone infection due to the growing pressure within your brain.

Thanks to the antibiotic era, owing to which we rarely see cases of frontal bone osteomyelitis today. The key is timely diagnosis and treatment.

10. Brain abscess

A brain abscess is a localized collection of pus within your brain substance. It occurs because of the direct spread of infection from your paranasal sinuses.

As is obvious, brain abscess is a potentially lethal condition that can lead to coma and death if not addressed right away.

Seek Consultation

Untreated sinus infection can take a heavy toll on your wellbeing. The good news is that with advancements in medical and surgical treatments today, almost all complications of sinusitis are preventable.

Hence, our experts at the Ear, Nose, Throat & Allergy Specialist, recommend seeking treatment if you have symptoms of sinusitis lasting longer than ten days, or symptoms that keep coming back. These symptoms include fever, runny or blocked nose, congestion, facial pain, and tenderness.

A plethora of medical and lifestyle options are available to help address a sinus infection. Moreover, if conventional measures don’t help, our experts at the ENT & Allergy Specialist are also adept at performing a cutting-edge procedure to widen blocked sinuses, known as balloon sinuplasty.  

Balloon Sinuplasty

The steps of this procedure are as follows:

  •   You’ll be given medicine to relax.
  •   We first insert a thin, flexible tube known as an endoscope into your nose. This tube has a camera and light on its end, which is used to visualize the sinus cavity.
  •   Another small tube termed as a catheter with a balloon at its end is next advanced over the guiding endoscope.
  •   Our specialists then open up the inflamed sinuses by inflating the balloon.
  •   The balloon is finally deflated and taken out.  

The success rates of a balloon sinuplasty are well over 90%. Most patients report a long-term, significant improvement in their sinus symptoms.

Balloon sinuplasty is minimally invasive (doesn’t involve any cutting) and doesn’t require placing a packing inside after the surgery. Thus, the recovery from the procedure is also relatively easy and quick.

Balloon sinuplasty has minimal to no risks, and in the majority of cases, this procedure helps you get off all your anti-allergy and steroid medicines as well as antibiotics that you might be taking for very long.

If you’re experiencing a sinusitis flare-up or are having symptoms of a chronic sinus infection, get one-on-one consultation by booking an appointment with one of our experts at the Ear, Nose, Throat & Allergy Specialist.

 

Tympanomastoidectomy: What Is it & Are You a Candidate?

What is Tympanomastoidectomy?

A tympanomastoidectomy is a combination surgery that is done to fix middle ear problems both in the eardrum (aka tympanic membrane) and the hard bump right behind your ear (called the mastoid bone) that is filled with air cells and resembles a honeycomb. 

Hence, tympanomastoidectomy entails both: 

  • repair of the eardrum called tympanoplasty
  • removal of the infected mastoid air cells called mastoidectomy

Who Are the Candidates for Tympanomastoidectomy?

Surgical treatment is not always the first step when it comes to treating middle ear and eardrum problems. However, surgery becomes imperative when more conservative treatments fail or when complications stem from other non-surgical treatments. 

Conditions that necessitate tympanomastoidectomy include: 

  • Chronic or recurrent middle ear infections 
  • Cholesteatoma (a noncancerous skin growth in the middle ear behind the eardrum, or in the mastoid bone—can weaken and erode the eardrum, causing it to rupture)
  • Chronic/recurrent eardrum perforations
  • To place a cochlear implant in patients with severe hearing loss 
  • As part of another ear surgery to gain access to the middle ear, such as surgery on the three tiny ossicles (bones) of the middle ear 
  • Removal of skull base tumors

Types of Mastoidectomy

There are different versions of mastoidectomy:

  1. Simple mastoidectomy

This type of mastoid surgery entails opening your mastoid bone, drilling out the infected air cells, and draining your middle ear. 

  1. Radical mastoidectomy

This involves removing your mastoid air cells, middle ear components, your eardrum, and your ear canal. Patients with more complicated mastoid disease are usually the candidates for this type of mastoid surgery. 

  1. Modified radical mastoidectomy

This is a less intense form of radical mastoidectomy that entails drilling out and removing the diseased mastoid air cells. With this type, however, some middle ear bones are preserved, and the eardrum is reconstructed (tympanoplasty).

The goal of this type of mastoidectomy is to remove the diseased parts while preserving as much hearing as possible by restructuring the hearing mechanism at the same time or in second-stage operation. This type of surgery is often reserved for patients with a cholesteatoma in their better hearing ear. 

Both types of radical mastoidectomies result in less than normal hearing. 

How is a Tympanomastoidectomy Done?

When performing a tympanomastoidectomy, our specialists at the Ear, Nose, Throat & Allergy Specialist will decide which option is the best for each case. This may vary with the cause of the condition, the severity of the problem, and whether or not there’s an infection. 

After the necessary preparations, you will be placed under general anesthesia (i.e., you will be unconscious during the entire procedure). 

The surgery is split into two parts:

1. Mastoidectomy

During mastoidectomy, our experts use a less invasive approach called the post-auricular approach by making a cut behind your ear instead of accessing the mastoid bone from within the ear.

Once exposed, the mastoid bone is then drilled to gain access to the interior of your middle ear while taking care not to injure the facial nerve. 

Suction irrigation is used intermittently to keep the view clear and allow us to work on the targeted site. 

We then drill out the infected mastoid air cells and remove any growth. The incision is not closed until your eardrum is also repaired as follows: 

2. Tympanoplasty

Inside the ear, we get rid of any surplus or scar tissue with the help of laser. The rim around the perforated eardrum is tidied with an instrument. After making cuts in the ear canal skin, it is elevated, along with any healthy remnant your eardrum. 

We then cover the hole in your eardrum with a sheet of tissue called fascia. The canal skin is then replaced, and the canal packed with gauze piece.. We then stitch up the incision. Sterile bandage is finally placed over the operated site. 

The goal of this surgical procedure is not only to seal the hole but also to improve hearing. 

How is the Recovery after Tympanomastoidectomy?

When you wake up, you can expect to have bandages over your ear and stitches behind your ear. You may also experience some ear pain, headache, and some skin  numbness. That is why we prescribe painkillers, give you antibiotics ear drops and pills to prevent or treat any infection, and ask you to schedule a follow-up appointment for a wound check and to remove any bandages and stitches.

Activity

We recommend: 

  • not to put pressure on the operated ear
  • sleep with the operated ear up 
  • refrain from all strenuous activity, especially lifting anything heavy, for at least two to four weeks afterward, and as advised
  • not to swim or fly in an airplane until healing occurs (which can take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks after surgery).

Showering 

Avoid getting water in your ear until you’re advised. When you take a shower or bath, use a cotton ball lightly moistened in petroleum jelly to keep water out. You may also place earplugs in the very outside of your ear, but be sure NOT to place anything inside your ear canal. Also, if you use earplugs, choose the ones of the silicone variety. Plastic earplugs can go inside the ear canal. The goal is to keep your ear dry while avoiding any pressure on the dressing at the same time. 

Potential Complications of Tympanomastoidectomy

The surgery is generally safe and uncomplicated. However, it’s important to be aware of the risks of the procedure. 

  1. Bleeding 

The packing in the ear is left for 1 to 2 weeks. During this time, it will keep absorbing some blood-stained fluid until it’s removed. Hence, it’s normal to experience some bloody fluid draining from your ear for 1 to 2 days after the gauze is taken out.

  1. Nausea and vomiting

Nausea & vomiting is a rare and unpleasant complication that may occur after surgery, but not in all people.. We, however, make every effort to prevent or at least reduce its intensity.

  1. Unsteadiness

It’s common to feel unsteady and dizzy for the first few days following surgery. This should subside over the next few weeks.

  1. Hearing loss

Hearing is likely to get affected after surgery, especially if the hearing bones were affected but failed to be reconstructed during surgery. Some patients may require a second procedure to improve hearing, this is called an ossiculoplasty. 

  1. Tinnitus

Tinnitus, which is the ringing or buzzing in your ears, may also become more noticeable after tympanomastoid surgery. 

  1. Infection 

Infection may rarely develop after surgery. While we take all precautions to prevent it, should an infection occur, long-term antibiotics become mandatory. The ear infection can spread to your brain, causing meningitis (an infection of the coverings called meninges surrounding your brain and spine). 

  1. Facial nerve weakness 

Our highly trained experts make every effort to avoid damaging your facial nerve. Nonetheless, this nerve is at risk to some extent in all forms of middle ear or mastoid surgeries, causing weakness of your facial muscles. During the surgery the facial nerve is monitored to prevent injury.

  1. Altered taste 

Taste disturbances, such as a metallic taste, are common after middle ear surgeries. This is because of the damage to the small taste nerve that traverses your ear-drum. Most taste disturbances resolve on their own.  

 

How to Solve a Sinus Infection That Won’t Go Away

Sinus infection is a common problem that can affect any age group. It represents the fifth most common condition that requires an antibiotic prescription.

Sinuses are four paired air-filled spaces in your skull and face bones surrounding your nose. Their main function is to produce mucus that forms a layer inside the sinuses to humidify inhaled air and keep the interior of your nose moisturized. This mucus layer can trap dust particles, other pollutants, or bad germs and brush them out through your nose. Each sinus drains into your nose through small openings to keep these passages clear of excess mucus and the trapped particles.

However, sometimes, such as when the weather changes and you catch a cold, it can turn into a sinus infection. This causes inflammation of your sinuses, known as sinusitis. Usually, sinusitis should go away in a few days or a week. But sometimes that sinus infection can stick around for a long time.

What is Chronic Sinus Infection?

Chronic sinusitis is a long-standing inflammation of your sinuses that lasts for 12 weeks or longer at a time. Sinusitis is also known as rhinosinusitis (rhino means nose). So, we use the two terms interchangeably. When inflamed, nasal passages and sinuses become swollen and blocked. Chronic sinusitis interferes with the normal drainage of the mucus. Too much mucus builds up in your nose and sinuses, making them stuffy.

What Causes Chronic Sinus Infection?

Multiple factors acting together usually contribute to chronic sinusitis.

People with allergies are more prone to develop chronic sinusitis. About one in five people with chronic sinusitis also have asthma. This is because the linings of your nose and sinuses are in continuation with the linings of your lungs. These people are also likely to have nasal polyps (benign growths in your nose containing mucus).

A bacterial or viral infection can also trigger the condition. The infection is often low grade. The bacteria confine themselves in stubborn “biofilms,” making it difficult for your immune system or antibiotics to find and attack them.

An overlap of additional factors such as smoking, environmental pollutants, and deviated septum, further complicate the picture of chronic sinusitis.

It would be more appropriate to say that if you’re already prone to allergies and nasal polyps, it becomes easier for harmful bugs, especially fungi (molds) to penetrate your sinuses. Likewise, a weak immune system makes you more susceptible to catch bacterial, viral, or fungal sinus infection.

A sinus that is inflamed and swollen can no longer sweep away the excess mucus and harmful agents due to the blockage of tiny hairs that facilitate this function.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Sinus Infection?

Chronic sinusitis emerges more insidiously than acute sinusitis. At times, however, the symptoms start suddenly and may resemble that of the common cold or acute sinusitis that just won’t go away.

Chronic sinusitis is most likely if you have two or more of the following symptoms:

  • Nasal congestion or stuffy nose
  • Mucus and pus-like discharge (yellow fluid draining out of your nose)
  • Postnasal drip (mucus dripping at the back of your throat)
  • Facial pain, pressure around your eyes and nose, or fullness
  • Partial or complete loss of your sense of smell

Chronic cough, sore throat, and fatigue may also be seen in a chronic sinus infection. That said, these symptoms are not required for the diagnosis of chronic rhinosinusitis.

How do you Diagnose Chronic Sinusitis?

The presence of two or more of the listed symptoms for at least three months raises the suspicion of a chronic sinus infection.

In such cases, we will evaluate you to confirm the diagnosis. This involves applying pressure on your sinuses to elicit tenderness. If the tenderness is positive, your sinuses are likely to be inflamed. We will then take a peek into your nose using a small flexible scope, and check for nasal polyps, pus-filled discharge, and deviated septum.

We may also recommend nasal endoscopy. This is an office procedure that enables us to view the interior of your nose and sinus passages. It’s done with an instrument called an endoscope, which is a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera and a light. We will pass this scope into your nose and sinuses to look inside. Nasal endoscopy allows us to detect any swelling and polyps, as well as collect discharge from the infected area. This can help spot the cause of your infection and what’s the best way to treat it.

If need be, we may also perform imaging in the form of a computed tomography (CT) to look for further problems.

Allergy skin tests look for allergic causes and to check for problems within your immune system may also be done.

What is the Treatment for Chronic Sinus Infection?

When it comes to treating chronic sinusitis, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. While several treatment options are available, what works for one person may not be appropriate for the other. Hence, we tailor the treatment to each individual’s’ needs, symptoms, and whether or not other conditions (such as allergies or asthma) are also at play.

The goals of treating chronic sinusitis are to address the allergic causes, minimize inflammation, promote free sinus drainage, and eradicate the infection (if there’s any).

Here are a few potential treatment options for chronic sinusitis. We will likely try out a combination of two or more of these options to see what works best for you.

Medical treatment

Saline Nasal Washes

Irrigating your nasal passages with salt water (saline) adds moisture to dry secretions, helps thin the trapped mucus, curbs postnasal drip, and thereby flush out mucus and allergens. It also helps control inflammation.

Glucocorticoid (aka steroid) nasal sprays, washes, and drops

Steroids are highly effective at limiting inflammation. They reduce mucus production and help shrink any polyps. When you use glucocorticoids in the form of nasal sprays or drops, the medicine works right where it is needed.

Nasal steroid sprays do not travel higher up into your sinuses. Instead, they stay and work inside your nose to limit swelling, thus easing sinus drainage into your nasal passages.

If the nasal spray doesn’t work well, we may suggest you adding a nasal steroid solution to the saline nasal wash. This mixture of saline nasal wash and steroid solution pushes the steroid solution higher up into your sinuses to relieve inflammation and ease sinus drainage.

Glucocorticoid pills

Sometimes, we may recommend taking glucocorticoids (steroids) by mouth (orally). These medications, unlike sprays and rinses, reach your circulation and can effectively address inflammation. Despite the dramatic improvement in symptoms with oral steroids, we only prescribe them when it’s necessary. This is because taking steroids by mouth carries some risks, such as suppressing your natural immune system.

Antibiotics

Chronic rhinosinusitis is usually caused by inflammation rather than infection. Bacterial infections may still contribute to sinusitis in some cases. Therefore, some people need to take antibiotics. An adequate antibiotic trial in chronic sinus infection entails a minimum of 3-4 weeks of treatment, preferably culture-guided.

Leukotriene modifiers

We may occasionally prescribe a group of medications called leukotriene modifiers to reduce symptoms of chronic sinusitis. These medications include montelukast (Singulair), zafirlukast (Accolate), and zileuton (Zyflo). They also work by curtailing inflammation but in a different way than steroids.

Immunotherapy shots

If we suspect allergies to be a trigger for your sinusitis, an allergist will also be involved in your treatment strategy. In such cases, we give allergy shots (immunotherapy) that help suppress your body’s immune response to specific allergens (triggers).

Surgical Treatment for Chronic Sinusitis

Although medical therapy and lifestyle tweaks are the first-line treatment for chronic rhinosinusitis, some people may fail to respond to optimal therapy. In such cases, Ear, Nose Throat and Allergy Specialist performs a surgery to widen up the blocked sinuses and remove any trapped mucus or polyps.

Other situations in which surgery could be considered include:

  • When chronic sinusitis symptoms do not respond to the medical treatments listed above, and CT scan of your sinuses reveals complete blockage of one or more sinuses.
  • When nasal polyps fail to shrink enough with steroids.
  • When a severe deviation of the septum completely blocks your nose or hinders sinus drainage.
  • When there’s a suspicion of allergic fungal sinusitis. The sinuses in allergic fungal sinusitis get clogged with thick, dense mucus that is hard to remove in any way other than surgery.

Balloon Sinuplasty

Our surgeons prefer balloon sinuplasty instead of the traditional endoscopic surgery due to its safety profile, less invasive nature, and faster recovery. However, not all patients are good candidates for balloon sinuplasty. This type of surgery is not a suitable option in patients with nasal polyps or those with severe damage to their sinus openings.

A balloon sinuplasty is an in-office procedure that uses a thin, small, flexible catheter (tube) with an inflatable balloon at its end to reopen blocked sinuses. After passing a balloon catheter, we will slowly inflate it to widen out the sinus opening. We will then wash out all the mucus and pus from your sinus cavity with a saline solution. The balloon is then deflated and removed. This helps reform and widen out the sinuses while maintaining the natural structure of the sinus lining.

It works the same way as balloon angioplasty, in which heart surgeons open up blocked blood vessels.

Most patients can resume their regular activities within a day or two after balloon sinuplasty.

Are you located in the North Georgia area and have a sinus infection that just won’t go away? Contact our office today to schedule an appointment.

 

 

 

 

Tonsillitis and When Is Tonsillectomy Needed

What is Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is an inflammation of your tonsils called palatine tonsils — two oval-shaped masses of soft tissue that sit at the rear of your throat— one on each side.

Tonsils are part of your immune system and help fight off germs entering through your nose and throat. They are, therefore, at risk of becoming infected.

Though tonsillitis is more common in children and teens, adults can also develop the condition.

What Causes Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis occurs due to an infection, most likely a viral infection (such as the common cold) but a bacterial infection (most commonly a strep throat) may also trigger the condition. You or your child can contract these bacteria or viruses after coming in contact with contaminated droplets of an infected person during coughing, sneezing, talking, or kissing.

What are the Different Types of Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis can be:

  • Acute, in which case it lasts anywhere from three days to two weeks, and can either be bacterial or viral in origin.
  • Chronic, which can persist for long periods, usually beyond two weeks, and is almost always bacterial.
  • Recurrent, in which case, a patient experiences several, usually five or more episodes of tonsillitis in a year.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis can give rise to the following signs and symptoms:

  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty or pain while swallowing
  • A scratchy sensation inside the throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Earache
  • Stomachache
  • Bad breath
  • Jaw and neck tenderness
  • Red and enlarged tonsils
  • Inflamed, or red, throat (pharynx) in acute tonsillitis — which is why acute tonsillitis is also sometimes called pharyngeal tonsillitis
  • Whitish or sometimes yellowish spots on tonsils

How Is Tonsillitis Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of tonsillitis requires complete evaluation and tests to determine if tonsillitis is caused by a bacterium or a virus. The treatment will vary with the causative factor. Hence, it’s imperative to establish the cause of tonsillitis.

Examination for tonsillitis includes the following: 

  • Examining your throat for redness, swelling or white spots on the tonsils
  • Examining your ears and nose for other signs of infection
  • Feeling the sides of your neck to check if the lymph nodes are swollen and tender

Determining the Cause of Tonsillitis

After examination, the next step is to determine the cause. To confirm or refute strep throat as the underlying cause, your ENT specialist will order a rapid antigen test (RADT), also known as a rapid strep test. This test entails swirling a long cotton swab inside the back of your throat to collect a sample. The results of this test are readily available in about 10-15 minutes.

However, If RADT is negative, but there’s a strong suspicion of strep throat, a throat culture can be ordered to confirm the diagnosis. This test checks for the presence of specific bacteria in your throat. Its results come back in 2-5 days.

Negative test results for bacterial tonsillitis indicate that the tonsillitis is viral, not bacterial.

How do you Treat Tonsillitis?

The treatment of tonsillitis depends on the cause.

Viral tonsillitis

It is treated with supportive measures such as:

  • Adequate rest
  • Plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
  • Medications for relieving pain and lowering fever, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen (paracetamol)
  • Sucking on throat lozenges
  • Gargling and rinsing with warm salt water to help soothe a sore throat

Bacterial tonsillitis

If the test results detect a bacterial infection, an antibiotic is prescribed for about 7 to 10 days to help the infection go away somewhat faster. Taking an antibiotic will also stop you or your child from being contagious within 24 hours. But this doesn’t mean that you stop taking the antibiotic before completing the entire course. Doing so can worsen your condition. Besides, antibiotics can also cut down your risk of developing complications – though these are rare in tonsillitis.

When is a Tonsillectomy Needed?

Tonsillectomy is the surgical removal of the tonsils. It used to be a fairly common procedure for treating tonsillitis in the olden days. Today, however, tonsillectomy is not recommended for every patient with tonsillitis. It is only performed in patients who have:

1. Recurrent, frequent episodes of tonsillitis, generally defined as:

  • At least seven episodes in the preceding year
  • At least five episodes a year in each of the previous two years
  • At least three episodes a year for three years in a row

2. Chronic or recurrent bacterial tonsillitis that fails to respond to optimal doses of appropriate antibiotics.

3. Severe symptoms that hamper everyday life, such as missing school or work.

4. Complications of tonsillitis, such as:

  • the formation of a pus-filled pocket close to your tonsils called peritonsillar abscess – that doesn’t improve with medical treatment or drainage
  • difficulty breathing due to enlarged tonsils
  • pauses in breathing while sleeping, indicating a condition called sleep apnea (more than 70% of children who undergo tonsillectomy for sleep apnea report an improvement of their symptoms)
  • difficulty swallowing

5. Multiple antibiotic allergies or intolerances.

How is a Tonsillectomy Performed?

A tonsillectomy is done under general anesthesia (i.e., by sedating you or your child with medications). You will not be aware of the procedure and will not feel any pain while your ENT surgeon is removing the tonsils.

There are several ways of surgically removing the tonsils. However, Surgeons at Ear, Nose, Throat & Allergy Specialists use the Coblation method of tonsillectomy due to its high precision and safety profile.

What is a Coblation Tonsillectomy

Coblation, which means controlled ablation, delivers low-temperature radiofrequency waves with the help of an electrical wand to dissolve the tonsils at the molecular level. This procedure allows your tonsils to be precisely removed without injuring the nearby tissues.

Because there is minimal to no damage to surrounding areas, coblation tonsillectomy is considered a minimally invasive procedure. It leads to considerably less pain, post-operative bleeding, fewer infections, and a faster return to daily activities as compared to the traditional approach.

How is the Recovery after a Tonsillectomy?

Recovery from a tonsillectomy can take anywhere between 10 to 14 days, and depends on the type of surgical procedure employed. It’s normal to experience small streaks or specks of dark or dried blood right within 24 hours of surgery (called primary bleeding) and between 5 and 10 days when scabs fall off from the surgical site (called secondary bleeding).

Adults usually take longer to recover from the surgery than children. You’ll have throat pain and discomfort for 1 to 2 weeks or even longer. The pain may get worse before it gets better and may make your ears hurt. You may also sleep with your mouth open and breathe through your mouth, especially while lying down at night.

All these complaints usually improve in 7 to 14 days after surgery. However, mouth breathing can make your mouth very dry. Therefore, make sure to keep yourself or your child well-hydrated. Placing a humidifier by the bed may also be a good idea to increase humidity and ease dry mouth symptoms.

What to Eat After a Tonsillectomy?

The key to recovery is drinking plenty of fluids. It’s always best to start with clear liquids and advance to soft, semi-solid foods that are easily chewable. You may gradually add to your or your child’s diet as tolerated. It’s best to avoid hard, crunchy, and spicy foods, as these can aggravate discomfort and irritation.

File:Blausen 0859 Tonsils&Adenoids.png. (2018, January 31). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved April 29, 2020 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Blausen_0859_Tonsils%26Adenoids.png&oldid=284404815.

Is There a Connection Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline?

“The researchers found that hearing loss was associated with higher risk of subjective cognitive function (SCF) decline, Dr. Curhan said. Compared with men who did not experience hearing loss, the multivariable-adjusted relative risk of incident SCF decline was 30% higher among men with mild hearing loss, 42% higher among men with moderate hearing loss, and 54% higher among men with severe hearing loss who didn’t use hearing aids.”

Read more at ENT Today

Ear, Nose, Throat & Allergy Specialists Now Offering Appointments via Internet

Living in the North Georgia mountains often brings a sense of welcomed isolation from the crowds and busy roads of Atlanta.  Ear, Nose, Throat, and Allergy Specialists is a 3-office team of 2 surgeons, 3 nurse practitioners, and 2 audiologists that serve a wide geographical area in North Georgia.  Even though we are rural, we have realized we cannot avoid the growing presence of the corona virus, COVID 19, which is affecting the most of the United States and world to some degree.

            As a practice, we have had to quickly learn and adapt to keep patients and staff safe.  Hospitals have dedicated personnel to develop and implement isolation and infectious disease protocols which help reduce the chance of spread of infection.  Fortunately, most of our providers including myself, have lots of hospital experience in dealing with isolation protocols and procedures and applying them to infectious or potentially infectious patients.  Over the past 2 weeks, we have began implementing these practices in all of our office locations with success.  Our goal is to continue to provide needed care to our patients and eliminate the risk of our patients coming to our offices for treatment.

            First, all of our patients are pre-screened on the telephone to ensure they do not have any symptoms of acute cough, cold, or fever.  Patients that do have these symptoms are encouraged to increase fluids and rest as well as to use common cold remedies, and reschedule their appointment after they recover.  If needed, we help direct them to locations where flu and COVID 19 screening are provided. 

           When patients arrive for their appointment, our dedicated and knowledgeable staff perform in-person screening for illness and fever which allows us to quickly isolate any potential infectious person.  Our diligent phone screening has nearly eliminated the chance of an infectious person coming to the office, but we feel this helps ensure a healthy environment for our patients to be treated in. 

           To accommodate the needs of our patients, we have now implemented live, one-on-one, Telehealth appointments.  If you are an existing patient and do not feel comfortable physically coming to the office, our staff will help you set up a virtual appointment using your computer at home.  This allows our patients to remain in contact with us and communicate their needs so we can continue to provide the high level of care we enjoy giving.  Please visit this page to learn more information.

            On behalf of all of our providers and staff at ENT Specialists, we want to let our patients know that we will continue to provide ongoing support and do our part to keep you safe and healthy.  We extend you and your family best wishes, for a safe and healthy experience, as we continue to provide both in-person and virtual visits to our office.

-Josh Snearly, NP-C

Nurse Practitioner

Allergy Testing and Immunotherapy

The Bottom Line

Allergy problems are extremely prevalent in the United States. The American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy (AAOA) estimates that allergies significantly affect about 50 million Americans, and allergies represent some of the most common types of chronic illness in the US. Allergy issues can range from seasonal allergies, such as allergic reactions to certain types of pollen, to environmental allergies like problems with pet dander and dust mites. Allergic responses to insect stings, like bee venom, can also be severe and even life-threatening.

Types of Allergies

There are several common types of allergies, classified according to the kind of allergen or substance that triggers the allergy. These allergy types include:

Seasonal allergies – This type of allergy is triggered by exposure to pollen. As the name implies, seasonal allergies are usually limited to one or two seasons of the year. For example, ragweed pollen is a frequent cause of seasonal fall allergies, and pollen from trees is often the source of spring and seasonal summer allergies. Seasonal allergies are usually minimized in the winter due to low pollen counts.

Mold allergies – Many species of mold can trigger allergies. These species include Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Alternaria. While it is possible to suffer mold allergies from outdoor exposure, most mold allergy cases occur from indoor exposure due to a higher concentration of mold spores.  

Insect allergies – Insect stings can be painful and annoying for anyone, but around 5 – 7.5% of the population suffers from allergic reactions to bee, wasp, yellow jacket, and other insect stings. The severity of reactions ranges from intense swelling and discomfort near the site of the sting to difficulty breathing, which may lead to death without immediate treatment.

Food allergies – Allergies to certain foods have increased in recent decades. The most common foods that cause allergic reactions include cow’s milk, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, and eggs.

Latex allergies – Latex is a type of rubber frequently used in healthcare. Latex allergies are most common in healthcare workers who experience frequent exposure to latex gloves and other latex products.

Environmental allergies – This is a broad group of allergies that can include mold allergies as well as allergies to animal dander, dust mites, and other irritants.

Allergy Symptoms

Allergy symptoms vary according to the type of allergy. A runny nose, watery and red eyes, sneezing, coughing, and congestion are the hallmarks of seasonal, mold, and environmental allergies. If allowed to continue, these symptoms may worsen into a case of sinusitis or bronchitis.

An allergic reaction to certain foods usually manifests as stomach upset, diarrhea, and nausea and vomiting. In addition to these gastrointestinal symptoms, food allergies can cause hives, itching of the mouth and skin, and facial and throat swelling. A latex allergy also causes a localized reaction of hives and itching along with swelling and sometimes a runny nose.

An allergic reaction to an insect sting will cause swelling at the site of the sting and may also cause swelling in other parts of the body. Insect allergies may also result in hives, flushing, redness of the skin, and anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis

In certain individuals, food, insect, and latex allergies can lead to a condition called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is potentially life-threatening and constitutes an extreme medical emergency. Characteristics of anaphylaxis include swelling of the throat and face, skin reactions like hives and flushing, difficulty breathing, fainting and dizziness, low blood pressure, and a rapid pulse. Anaphylaxis requires an immediate injection of epinephrine, also called adrenaline, and professional medical attention.  

What Causes Allergies?

An inappropriate immune response is the source of allergy symptoms. Specifically, a foreign substance like wasp venom or pollen triggers the immune system. The immune system identifies this foreign substance as an invasive microorganism like bacteria or a virus. In turn, the immune system produces antibodies and other factors that cause inflammation.

In reality, allergens do not pose a major threat to the body. It is the immune system’s overblown response to allergens that causes allergy symptoms from a mildly runny nose to deadly anaphylaxis.

Risk Factors

Allergies can strike anyone. However, there are a few risk factors that can make an individual more likely to experience allergies.

Family history – A family history of allergies or related conditions such as hives, asthma, and eczema may increase the likelihood of allergy problems.

Age – Children are more likely to experience allergies than adults. Sometimes children will “grow out” of childhood allergies as they mature.

Frequent exposure – Repeated and prolonged exposure to certain allergens can cause allergies to develop. For example, healthcare workers who often wear latex gloves may develop a latex allergy. Similarly, beekeepers have a higher rate of bee sting allergies than the general population.

Preventing Allergies

Once allergies surface, avoidance of allergens is among the most effective measures to prevent allergy symptoms. For instance, being careful concerning a diet is important for those with food allergies. Likewise, wearing good quality filter masks when doing yard work and taking measures to limit exposure to outside air may help significantly with seasonal allergies.

Lifestyle changes are sometimes necessary to control allergies. Those with allergies to cat dander may need to consider a different choice of pet, for example. Also, latex allergy triggers can be avoided by switching to a different material, like nitrile protective gloves.

Of course, avoidance is not always possible. Those with severe allergies need to be prepared. Individuals who suffer from severe allergic reactions should always carry an epinephrine delivery device (brand names include EpiPen and Adrenaclick) and a medical identification alert. They should also ensure that those close to them are aware of their allergy and the symptoms of anaphylaxis. Fortunately, there are also desensitization immunotherapy treatments available for some types of allergies, discussed in the section below.

Allergy Treatment

In the case of mild seasonal or environmental allergies, over-the-counter medications are often sufficient to control symptoms. Effective medications include antihistamines for nasal symptoms and cortisone creams for skin problems. Symptoms of moderate severity may require prescription medications such as corticosteroids.

When allergy symptoms are severe or interfere with daily life and avoidance of triggers is not feasible, allergy testing and immunotherapy can be quite beneficial. Doctors perform allergy testing to identify the specific allergens causing the symptoms. A patient may only know that they develop allergy symptoms during the spring. They may not realize that oak tree pollen is the offending substance. Allergy testing pinpoints the problem while eliminating other potential causes.

Allergy testing can be done in several ways. The modified quantitative testing (MQT) protocol is an allergy diagnostic that is dependable, minimally invasive, and proven safe. This protocol is a combination of skin prick testing and intradermal testing (IDT) that is quite comfortable and causes no pain. Ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists use MQT to identify moderate to severe allergies. MQT can be performed safely in-office and does not require a hospital visit.

Blood testing for allergies, called RAST, may be an option for individuals who have severe skin conditions, take medications that interfere with MQT testing, or are otherwise not good candidates for the MQT protocol. RAST testing involves a simple blood draw. The blood sample is analyzed in a laboratory, and the results are provided to the ENT physician.

Immunotherapy, commonly called allergy shots, can often be done when more conservative measures like allergen avoidance and medications have failed. Immunotherapy involves injecting minute amounts of an allergen to desensitize the immune system to that allergen.

Only certain types of allergies respond to immunotherapy. Unfortunately, food allergies and latex allergies cannot currently be controlled through immunotherapy. However, insect, environmental, and seasonal allergies often show good responses to immunotherapy treatments. For instance, about 85% of people experience excellent results from immunotherapy for hayfever (allergic rhinitis).

In immunotherapy, the ENT creates a customized vial for each patient. The vial contains a mixture of allergens to which testing has demonstrated the patient has a sensitivity. The patient receives an injection each week, gradually advancing the dose at a safe rate. Over time, this treatment will cause the immune system to create antibodies to the offending allergens. Ultimately, immunotherapy will result in immunity to the offending allergen, and the patient will have no symptoms when they are around the allergen.

Typically, in our practice, we perform a four-month trial of immunotherapy, and if there is a significant reduction in symptoms, we will continue with the full course of immunotherapy. The course consists of injections weekly for the first year, twice monthly for the second year, and monthly for the last year. Over-the-counter and prescription allergy medications only help to mask the symptoms of allergies. Immunotherapy is the only method of actually eliminating symptoms by acclimating the body to allergens and stimulating antibody production.

Immunotherapy through desensitization injections can allow allergy sufferers to experience a greatly improved quality of life. Often, they are able to enjoy the outdoors again and are no longer limited by their symptoms. In the case of insect allergies, immunotherapy can even be potentially lifesaving.

Tinnitus: Causes, Risk Factors & Treatment

What Causes Ringing in the Ears?

Tinnitus is a pervasive problem in the United States. According to both the Mayo Clinic and the American Tinnitus Association, about 15 to 20% of Americans suffer from daily tinnitus. This number represents approximately 50 million people. There are various causes of tinnitus, and fortunately, several treatments are available for this condition.

We’ll take a look at the different possible causes of tinnitus below. We will also explore risk factors, prevention, and treatment options for tinnitus. Remember, although this article provides valuable information about tinnitus, your ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist is always your best source of tinnitus advice and guidance. 

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a ringing or buzzing in the ears. These sounds can be heard only by the patient and are not generated by an external source. While almost everyone has experienced at least one episode of tinnitus during their life, people with chronic tinnitus may suffer from daily bouts.

The nature of tinnitus varies from person to person. While most patients report their tinnitus as ringing or buzzing, tinnitus may also take the form of a hissing, clicking, or whooshing sound. Some people experience tinnitus only in quiet conditions, such as at night when preparing for bed. For others, tinnitus is near-constant and also occurs in a noisy environment.

Pulsatile tinnitus is a common variant of the condition. In pulsatile tinnitus, the patient feels a pulsing sensation that occurs along with the noise of tinnitus. The condition may feel like blood rushing in the ears and often produces a whooshing sound.

Tinnitus may occur in one or both ears. The severity of tinnitus cases also varies. Tinnitus may be mild and only an occasional annoyance. However, tinnitus can also manifest as a severe condition that interferes with sleep, focus, and the ability to hold a conversation.

Causes of Tinnitus

Tinnitus has many possible causes, and some of these causes respond better to treatment than others. To understand the origins of tinnitus, it is necessary to give an overview of how hearing works. In summary, sound waves stimulate cells in the inner ear called hair cells. In turn, these cells generate electrical impulses that travel along the auditory nerve to the brain, where the impulses are interpreted as sound. Any damage or blockage of this process can result in tinnitus.

Here are some specific causes of tinnitus:

Loud noise exposure – Exposure to loud noise is one of the most common tinnitus causes. High-decibel sounds can result in hearing damage, which leads to tinnitus. Both brief and extended exposure to loud noises can be triggers for tinnitus. Tinnitus that results from a brief or single exposure to loud sound will usually resolve spontaneously. However, tinnitus arising from repeated exposures may be chronic or long-lasting.

Examples of sound sources that can cause tinnitus include jet engines, heavy equipment, loud music, gunshots, and more. It is important to always wear ear protection when exposed to high-volume sounds to avoid problems with both hearing loss and tinnitus.

Age-related tinnitus – As people age, their propensity for tinnitus increases. Those older than 60 have the highest incidence of tinnitus. The high rate of tinnitus among seniors is due to a lifetime of noise exposure as well as age-related degeneration in the structures of the inner ear. Additionally, build-up of plaque in the arteries can lead to higher-than-normal pressure in the blood flow of the inner ear. This phenomenon can cause tinnitus or pulsatile tinnitus.

Earwax accumulation – Earwax, also called cerumen, protects the skin of the ear canal and helps to guard against harmful microorganisms. However, earwax can accumulate to the point that it blocks the ear canal and reduces hearing acuity. When this happens, tinnitus can result.

Acoustic neuroma – This is a benign tumor that grows on the nerves in the inner ear responsible for hearing and balance. Also called a vestibular schwannoma, the tumor may lead to balance issues and tinnitus in one ear only.

Ménière’s disease – Ménière’s is a disease characterized by abnormal inner ear pressure. In some cases, patients experience tinnitus as an early symptom of Ménière’s.

Eustachian tube dysfunction – The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the back of the throat. Eustachian tube dysfunction occurs when this tube stays open even when it should close. This condition can cause a sensation of fullness in the ear and is often mistaken for an earwax blockage by patients. Tinnitus is another common symptom of Eustachian tube dysfunction.

Head and neck trauma – Injuries to the head, face, and neck may result in problems with tinnitus. These injuries do not have to be sound-related but can result from automobile crashes, sports accidents, and workplace incidents.

Low zinc levels – Zinc, a common mineral, is normally present in the human bloodstream. Research suggests that some tinnitus patients have low zinc levels, a condition called hypozincemia. Studies have been contradictory as to whether taking zinc supplements can help lessen tinnitus symptoms, and the findings remain controversial.

Certain medications – Taking certain classes of medications may increase the chances of developing tinnitus, at least in the short term.

Risk Factors

The following are major risk factors for tinnitus:

Loud noise exposure – Prolonged exposure to loud noises often leads to tinnitus. Individuals who work in heavy industry, construction, and music are particularly at-risk.

Age – Those older than 60 have a greater risk of tinnitus than the general population.

Male sex – Men are more likely to experience tinnitus than women, although the reasons for this fact are still unknown.

Other medical conditions – Conditions such as cardiovascular disease, Ménière’s disease, and previous head trauma can increase the likelihood of tinnitus.

Smoking status – Smokers suffer from a huge variety of medical conditions at a higher rate than non-smokers, including tinnitus.

Preventing Tinnitus

The most effective way to prevent tinnitus is to protect against loud noise exposure. Hearing protection should always be worn in noisy environments, and music should be enjoyed at a reasonable volume. It is also important to have hearing checked on a regular basis so that any hearing loss or other problems can be identified early.

Other than sound protection, patients should also safeguard their ears in other ways. For example, earwax removal should never be attempted on one’s own. Instead, a visit to the ENT can safely remove excess earwax while checking for any problems. Also, protected the ear from water can prevent irritation and infections, which could lead to tinnitus. Consulting an ENT about earplugs or other ways of avoiding swimmer’s ear is an excellent idea.

Another effective method of tinnitus prevention is keeping in good general health. Good diet and exercise are crucial for overall health, but these measures can also cut the risk of cardiovascular disease that can contribute to tinnitus. Also, quitting smoking is paramount for both tinnitus prevention and longevity.

Tinnitus Treatment

Treatment of tinnitus largely depends on the underlying cause of the problem. For instance, if the tinnitus is due to an earwax obstruction, the treatment may be as simple as an ear cleaning by an ENT. Likewise, a doctor may decide zinc supplementation is the best course of action if a patient’s zinc levels are low.

Surgery is usually necessary to resolve tinnitus caused by an acoustic neuroma. If the tinnitus is due to medication, a physician may decide to discontinue that medication or switch to an alternate drug. This point illustrates the importance of keeping the entire healthcare team up-to-date on a patient’s entire medication list, both prescription and over-the-count.

In cases of age-related tinnitus or tinnitus resulting from noise exposure, the latest hearing aids can be quite helpful. Some degree of hearing loss usually accompanies these types of tinnitus, and patients often have trouble understanding conversational speech or audio from devices like phones and televisions. The latest hearing aids are “smart” devices that do more than merely amplify sound.

These smart hearing aids contain microprocessors that also filter out noise, such as background sounds and the buzz of tinnitus. This feature can be invaluable for patients dealing with severe tinnitus, enhancing their quality of life and allowing them to take part in social interactions. Many smart hearing aids also have Bluetooth connectivity so that they can interface with smartphones, smart TVs, etc.

First Steps

Consulting an ENT specialist should be the first action for anyone experiencing lasting tinnitus or suspected hearing loss. A proper diagnosis is necessary for meaningful treatment, and ENTs are experts in all forms of hearing issues. Tinnitus can be frustrating and even debilitating, but help is available.