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Allergies: Runny nose may lead to sinus infection

March 7, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Whenever you hear strong winds blowing through the night, expect to hear strong sneezing the next day. The wind is not an allergy sufferer's friend, and doctors warn your runny nose can easily turn into a sinus infection if you're not careful.

When the winds kick up, 35-year-old Auria Hayoun's allergies kick in.

"I just feel so congested. Sometimes, it makes me feel lethargic having allergies. I start sneezing, it's just very uncomfortable," she said.

Dr. Babak Larian, an ear, nose and throat specialist, says when winds from the ocean hit the mountains, the allergens get concentrated back into the L.A. basin and into your nose.

"As a consequence, you have a lot of mold exposure, but then you have lots of trees and plants and things like that, and pollen and dust and so on, so it gets up in the air," Larian said.

Healthy nasal passages and sinus cavities are open and clear, but once you breathe in allergens, your body thinks it's being attacked. The sinus lining starts to swell, the passages get blocked, and the mucus gets trapped, and that's when sinus infections set in.

You'll know it's a sinus infection if you see green discharge. Larian says antibiotics fight bacteria in the fluid, but it won't stop swelling. To relieve acute symptoms, he recommends decongestant medications, nasal sprays and saline rinses. To prevent sneezing attacks the next time the winds come, allergy shots may be necessary.

If you don't know what you're allergic to, a skin or blood test can help you find out. Then try to avoid your triggers, like keeping an air filter in the house.

If you know it's been windy the night before, Larian says start your allergy medications that morning before you have symptoms. An infection can get started within a day. And if you do suffer from chronic sinus problems, he says surgery should always be a last resort.