Mystery Sinus Illness 2000

First of all, extra points to anyone who got the reference in the title. And congrats on being super nerds like me.

Anyway, if you’ve been followying this blog for awhile, you know that I get sick a lot. Like, a lot. Like, if someone sneezes within 30 feet of me I instantly catch their cold, which rapidly develops into a sinus infection, which then means I spend the next one-to-three months hacking, coughing and generally feeling some level of Death Warmed Over until I can find a doctor willing to give me antibiotics. Rinse and repeat times infinity.

This has been my life for as long as I can remember, and it has only gotten worse since I’ve become a nurse. The air in hospitals is kept to a low humidity level to help prevent bacteria growth, mold and stuff like that. Unfortunately, that dry air just makes my sinuses worse.

Back in January of 2010 I had a CT scan of my sinuses done (sorry Zoey! I didn’t know you were already growing in there! oops). I then met with an ENT doctor who gave me some vague description of “well your sinuses really aren’t that bad, you have a crooked nasal septum, and let’s schedule you for sinus surgery.” I spent the next few weeks having major anxiety about being intubated and under general anesthesia for my pending operation until I discovered that I was pregnant with Zoey and canceled the surgery. #sorrynotsorry

Unfortunately, that meant I never actually solved my “constantly sick” problem. Things I have tried over the past six years:

  1. more antibiotics. They work great, but really don’t prevent the problem. Also, finding someone willing to prescribe them to me is getting harder all the time.
  2. sinus nasal rinses. At first, this really seemed to help me get past the sinus infections a lot faster. Especially during pregnancies (although, with the heightened gag reflex during pregnancy, I had to really be desperate before I was willing to do this).
  3. avoiding all germs like a total germaphobe. Purell, bleach, lysol wipes…you name it. Unfortunately, I have kids. School-age kids. So yeah, that was basically ineffective.

Now that I’m not pregnant and not planning to be pregnant again anytime soon (maybe ever?) and not breastfeeding every single hour of the day, I decided it was time to look into the surgery option again. So in January I sought out a new ENT (I really didn’t like the guy I saw before) and got a new CT scan done. Not much changed on the scan, I was told. However, she also told me that she couldn’t guarantee I was going to get any benefit from surgery. She thought we should try some other things first, and started by sending me to an immunologist.

Allergy skin test. Itched like crazy!

So, I went to see him and was promptly tested for allergies and asthma, and had blood drawn to check my antibody levels to a variety of things to test my immune system. Turns out I’m allergic to seven types of grasses and dust mites. It’s not grass season yet, but he had me vacuum the hell out of my house, get dust-mite proof protective covers for my mattress and pillows, and start taking Claritin and a steroid nasal spray every day to decrease the congestion and swelling that he could easily see I had. Negative for asthma and all of my antibodies were fine except some pneumococcal strains. The tests showed I had been exposed but didn’t develop sufficient antibodies. So on a follow-up visit I was given a Pneumovax (yes, the vaccine people over 65 get). We’ll re-draw my blood in a month and see if I developed the proper antibodies this time. If not, there’s something going on with my immune system.

At the follow-up visit we also determined that a month of daily Claritin and steroid nasal sprays, in addition to the efforts against dust mites, had produced exactly no change in all my congestion. So we’re switching to Zyrtec, adding a second nasal steroid, putting me on a four day course of Prednisone (a steroid) and giving it a few more weeks to see if we can reduce the congestion. Incidentally, my CT scan shows that my sinuses are really pretty clear, but my septum resembles a rat maze and the nasal turbinates are swollen to three times the size they should be. If none of that works, it might be time to consider surgery.

So basically, “Here, try a bunch of meds, see what happens. Because we really don’t know why you’re sick all the time. Basically, you’re just weird.” As if I needed multiple expensive visits with specialists to tell me that.


4 thoughts on “Mystery Sinus Illness 2000

  1. What a mess. Not you, the crap you’re dealing with. I’ve been through similar, and my husband finally had two – count ’em, two! – balloon sinoplasty surgeries a few years ago. That finally gave him a ton of relief. I wouldn’t want to do it, but he highly recommends it. I hope you get some relief soon.

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