How I Manage My Chronic Congestion

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.

No.223 - Fine Lines & Wrinkles

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.

Seasonal Symptoms

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.

No.201 - Prevent Elasticity Damage

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

No.101 - Extract Dead Cells

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.

Read more on: allergies