Allergies, sinus infections and mucous... oh, my! This time of the year we have allergens growing and blowing. Nasal congestion, mucous production, sneezing and sinus infections are affecting most of us in West Texas. But what exactly is a sinus infection? How do you tell the difference between allergies and a sinus infection?

Allergies, sinus infections and mucous... oh, my! This time of the year we have allergens growing and blowing. Nasal congestion, mucous production, sneezing and sinus infections are affecting most of us in West Texas. But what exactly is a sinus infection? How do you tell the difference between allergies and a sinus infection?

Let's start with the basics. Your face has four pairs of sinus cavities or small, air-filled spaces located on each side of your face along the cheekbones, nose and forehead. The sinus cavities produce mucous, warm and moisten air, and resonate speech. In fact, your nasal passages make approximately one liter of mucous per day when healthy, more with allergies or infection! The mucous serves to moisten the passageways, catch and trap foreign bodies, and contain enzymes and antibodies to fight bacteria, fungus and viruses. But with all that mucous, the sinuses remain mostly air-filled unless you have problems.

Allergies or the common cold can cause an inflammatory reaction that increases mucous. If the sinuses become over-filled or blocked, germs can get trapped and grow, causing an infection. Allergies can create increased mucous, sneezing, runny nose, fluid running down the back of your throat called post-nasal drip and itchy eyes. If the symptoms increase to facial pain, sinus congestion, discolored or foul mucous discharge, headaches, fatigue and/or fever then it is possible you have transitioned from allergies to a sinus infection.

For a simple or early sinus infection, decongestants for up to three days, saline sinus rinses and allergy medication can help clear the sinuses and clear the infection. Warm compresses to the face and saline sprays can decrease discomfort. If the infection will not clear on its own, you will need to see your primary care provider. Providers often prescribe steroids to reduce inflammation and an antibiotic to fight the infection. Antibiotics should be taken the full duration prescribed because the sinuses can be difficult to penetrate and a resistant sinus infection can reoccur if the medication is not taken as prescribed.

To avoid infections, it is recommended to avoid contact with known ill people and frequently wash your hands, avoid allergens and avoid cigarette smoke. And when in doubt, contact your primary care provider.

Tami Halfmann is a nurse practitioner at North Runnels Hospital in Winters.This column is a service of The Health and Wellness Coalition of Runnels County which now meets every second Thursday at 7 pm. The next meeting will be May 10 at 7 p.m. in Winters at the North Runnels Clinic conference room, and will be devoted to Emergency Planning and Preparation for Healthcare Services and Facilities.