Ask the Doctors: Nose Woes

Healthy-WomanQ: How can I tell if I have a cold or if it’s allergies?

A: “If your symptoms seem to happen about the same time every year, you most likely have seasonal allergies, commonly known as hay fever,” said Otolaryngologist Geoffrey Schwartz, M.D. “Here in the Midwest, seasonal allergies seem to be at their worst in the spring and fall.” Dr. Schwartz noted that seasonal allergies are caused by airborne pollen from various plants, trees or grasses, and, in some cases, spores released from mold. “We also see people in the winter who react to house dust,” said Dr. Schwartz. “This is because houses are closed up and the dust accumulates.”

“Normally, your immune system doesn’t respond to these substances, but about one in five Americans are very sensitive and their immune system reacts as if it was exposed to an infectious agent,” said Dr. Schwartz. He said the immune system attacks with histamine and other compounds that cause eye irritation, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, watery eyes, itchy throat or ear canals, ear congestion, and postnasal drainage.”

Seasonal allergies may last several weeks to months and Dr. Schwartz indicated treatment may include over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays, decongestants or even in-office allergy treatments. “If possible, avoiding exposure is a good idea. Pollen counts are usually highest between 5 and 10 a.m., so stay inside, and keep your windows closed if possible. If you’re in a car, keep the windows up.”

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Q: I am in my mid-50s and have started leaking urine when I sneeze. What’s wrong?

A: “You may have a condition called stress urinary incontinence. It may be associated with pelvic floor prolapse,” said Urologist Robert Lai, M.D. “It aspects about one-third of all women over their lifetime.”

The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that form a kind of hammock across your pelvic opening. Normally, these muscles and the tissues surrounding them keep the pelvic organs in place. These organs include your bladder, uterus, vagina, small bowel, and rectum. Sometimes, these muscles and tissue become less taut, causing problems such as urinary incontinence, anal incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse and recurrent urinary tract infections.

Dr. Lai is one of the only urologists in Northwest Indiana who specializes in women’s urology, and has been treating pelvic floor prolapse since 2000. “When a patient is referred to me with possible pelvic prolapse, I do a complete history including a pelvic exam and, depending on the symptoms, sometimes I perform urodynamic testing,” shared Dr. Lai. “In some cases additional tests such as CT scans and ultrasounds of the kidneys or bladder are needed.”

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