By Randy Gould, as told to Stephanie Watson.
The problem started about 10 years ago. Every year, I would get a really bad sinus infection. I'd have a lot of congestion and pressure in my head. Then the postnasal drip would run down into the back of my throat and give me a sore throat, along with a lot of coughing. On top of all of that, I'd run a fever from the infection.
At the time, I was working at a high-end furniture retailer, and I remember having to take several sick days. My sinus symptoms would get better for a while, only to get worse again. It seemed that as soon as I'd go back to work, I'd have to take off again. It got to the point where I was staying home for a few days at a time because I felt so awful.
That's when I started talking about my symptoms with my primary care doctor. When the doctor first used the term "sinusitis," I didn't know what it meant. I had to look it up. But when I did investigate, the symptoms almost exactly matched what I had -- constant stuffiness, postnasal drip, pain, and pressure in my face.
I noticed that I always developed symptoms at around the same time every year, so I assumed allergies were causing my sinusitis. Once I started working in retail, my symptoms appeared even more often. I think being around a lot of people might have been part of the reason.
I'm also sensitive to dust, pollen, and allergens -- an occupational hazard when you sell furniture. The combination of allergies and other exposures made my symptoms even worse.
A Surprising Discovery
In 2016, I started to have strange new symptoms. My arm and face were tingling. It was very odd. I didn't know what was going on, but I worried that it was something neurological.
I first went to my primary care doctor. He told me to see a neurologist, which didn't do much to ease my worries.
The neurologist did a few standard tests of my balance and coordination. He hit each knee and elbow with a rubber hammer to test my reflexes and look for signs of a nerve problem. I passed every test.
To rule out other possible causes of my symptoms, he sent me for an MRI. At that point I started freaking out. I was convinced I had multiple sclerosis. The doctor didn't think it was anything that serious. He figured I had an infection. I'd recently traveled to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic with my family, and it was conceivable that I'd picked up a virus or bacterial infection. Shortly after I came home was when the odd tingling started.
My neurologist looked at my scans and said, "You don't have anything neurologically wrong with you, but you do have nasal polyps." I asked, "What is that?" He told me they were small, noncancerous growths in my sinuses. He said a surgeon could probably remove them.
Polyps do cause many of the symptoms I've had -- the congestion, postnasal drip, sinus pressure, and pain. I could have had surgery to remove them, but I didn't want to go through a procedure. And some of the same treatments I'd already used to relieve my symptoms help with polyps, too.
Five years later, the cause of the tingling is still somewhat of a mystery. My doctor thought it was anxiety. When I started taking Klonopin, it did eventually go away. That was one problem fixed, but the congestion has proven somewhat more elusive to treat.
Chronic Congestion Treatment
My primary care doctor recommended that I use a neti pot to flush out my clogged sinuses and relieve the postnasal drip. To me it felt like waterboarding torture. I hated it, and I just couldn't do it.
Instead, I take a nasal decongestant and a nasal spray to clear out my clogged nasal passages. And I use an inhaled corticosteroid to treat my cough whenever I have one. Steroids also help to shrink polyps. When I get a sinus infection, I take antibiotics until it clears up.
These treatments help, although I still have bouts of chronic congestion from time to time. Especially in the spring and fall, the sinusitis strikes. Along with it comes congestion, a sore throat, and a dry cough. When I get severe sinus headaches, sometimes it's hard for me to focus at work.
Overall, I've learned to manage my congestion pretty well. I've also forged a fragile peace with my polyps, although I know that I can always have them removed if they cause more problems in the future.