Dehumidification 101: Learn How to Keep Humidity at Bay in Your Home

TFO AUG HumidityDuring the summer months, people may notice that their homes feel damp or “muggy.” While on occasion this can be a fleeting concern, sometimes, people have ongoing problems with too much moisture in their homes. While at best overly humid air in the home can cause its residents some discomfort, unfortunately, there is a whole host of other issues that can be cause for concern.

In this article, we’ll identify some of the ways excessive humidity can have an adverse effect on your home. We’ll also give you a few practical ideas of what you can do right away to help diminish the amount of moisture in your home, and provide you with a solution to your humidity woes. Keep reading to learn more!

What are some of the issues caused by too much humidity?

Apart from feeling uncomfortable, there are many other reasons why you’ll want to keep the humidity levels in your home in check. If you’re noticing any of these concerns in your home, it’s likely that humidity is causing the problem.

  • You notice mold and mildew growth. Mold and mildew thrive in warm, humid areas. If you’ve noticed mold or mildew growth on floors, walls, or ceilings, it is most definitely a cause for concern. Not only can it cause damage to the building materials in these areas, but it can also cause health problems if left unchecked.
  • You’ve discovered peeling paint. Generally speaking, humidity is one of the major reasons why paint might peel on fixtures, furnishings, and walls around your home. That’s because the paint will not adhere properly to surfaces that are too damp. So, if you’ve discovered peeling paint, especially on surfaces that also feel damp to the touch, excess humidity is the likely cause.
  • Your house has an unpleasant odor. If you’re noticing a musty smell around your house, chances are it’s being caused by excess dampness – and unfortunately, mold or mildew growth. Overly humid environments can even help bacteria to grow in your home. Unpleasant smells are a warning sign that these unsavory pathogens are blooming somewhere in your house.
  • There are spots where wood seems discolored. If your home feels overly damp and you’re noticing discoloration on wood in your home, it may be showing signs of wood rot. It may be accompanied by shrinking, cracks, or splinters. If the wood feels soft or crumbles, there is definitely cause for concern. Wood rot can affect the structural integrity of your home.
  • You feel stuffy. Humidity can cause people to experience respiratory concerns, especially when it also has caused mold, mildew, and bacteria to grow excessively in the home. If your nose frequently feels plugged up, it may be because your home is too damp.

How can I help keep decrease the humidity level in my home?

If you’ve noticed any of the conditions above, the chances are your home is too humid. So, what measures can you take today to reduce the amount of humidity in your home? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Turn on the air conditioning. While your AC system is not a dehumidifier, it helps reduce humidity by bringing cool air in and drawing warm, humid air out.
  2. Make sure to turn on exhaust fans. When you shower or use your stovetop, warm, damp air is produced. Your exhaust fan will help draw it out.
  3. Cooldown your showers. Of course, hot showers feel great but they can exponentially add to the humidity level in your home. On damper days, taking a cooler shower can help.
  4. Make sure any leaking pipes are fixed. While there are many reasons why you’ll want to fix leaky pipes in your home, they can contribute to excessive moisture levels.
  5. Take advantage of cool breezes. If the weather outside is muggy, keeping the windows closed is a good plan of action. But if it’s a cooler, breezy day, opening a couple of windows helps.

I’ve taken these steps and it’s still too humid. What else can I do?

So, you’ve tried the above recommendations, but nothing is helping. In this instance, it’s likely time for you to consider installing a dehumidification system in your home. A whole-home dehumidifier is an especially good choice for homes that suffer from excessive moisture. The benefit of one of these dehumidifier types is that they are installed to work in conjunction with your home’s HVAC system. And, because they have a dedicated drain, you won’t have to worry about emptying water tanks.

Another benefit to a whole-home dehumidifier is that it will help keep all areas of your house free of excessive moisture, saving you from many of the issues we mentioned previously in this article. Plus, your air conditioning system will not have to work as hard – and that means it will use less energy, saving you money on your utility bills.

Ready for a more comfortable – and less humid – home? Give T.F. O’Brien a call.

At T.F. O’Brien, your comfort is always our number one priority. You rely on us for your HVAC needs, and you can count on us to help you get your home’s moisture level under control, too. If you’d like to learn more about how we can provide you with the dehumidification system you need, simply give us a call at 516.488.1800 and we will be more than happy to assist you.

How Whole-House Humidification Can Keep You More Comfortable

Winter weather means that homeowners are running their heating equipment a lot more frequently. In homes that have forced air heating systems, the indoor air very often becomes drier. While in the summer, we want less humidity in our homes, in the winter months it’s better to have humidified air.

Humid air makes people feel warmer, which is why in the summer people often opt for air conditioning and dehumidification for their homes. For the same reason, people may want to humidify their homes in the winter – to help them feel warmer and for a number of other positive benefits.

What are some symptoms of overly dry air?

Avoid dry air discomfort,
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The telltale signs of overly dry home air are generally pretty easy to spot. If the air in your home is too dry, you probably are noticing a lot of concerns that may be related to it. These include:

  • Creaky wooden fixtures, like floors and stairs
  • Cracking and warping in furniture or wood
  • Excessive static cling
  • Itchy, flaky skin
  • Dry mucous membranes (nasal passages/eyes)
  • Houseplants need to be watered more often

Fortunately, humidifying the air in your home is an easy fix for most of these concerns. Depending on your needs, you may also find that a whole-house humidifier provides the greatest benefit to you and your family.

How is a whole-house humidifier different than a room humidifier?

The principle of a whole-house humidifier and a room humidifier is the same – to deliver humidity into the air of your home. However, both of these humidifiers do exactly what they say – one delivers moisture to an individual space in your home; the other, all throughout your home.

How does a whole-house humidifier work?

Whole-house humidifiers actually are installed in conjunction with your furnace and your ductwork, so they send a mist into your home’s airflow, sending it throughout the house whenever your furnace runs. They require very little maintenance – because they use water from your plumbing system, you don’t have to worry about filling them. And, they’re efficient to operate, so you won’t have a huge added expense to your electric bill.

Whole-house units do require installation by a qualified HVAC technician and a small amount of annual maintenance if your home tends to have hard water. Otherwise, these humidification systems are pretty much set it and forget it – the only thing you’ll notice is improved indoor air and greater comfort.

How can T.F. O’Brien help me with whole-house humidification?

At T.F. O’Brien, we’re pleased to offer quality whole-house humidification systems to our customers. We’ll provide you with the installation of your system, and any additional maintenance you might need.
To learn more about our whole-house humidifiers, simply give us a call at 516.488.1800, and we will be more than happy to help you!

Five Reasons You Should Take Advantage of Shamrock Savings

As you know, the arrival of March also means Shamrock Savings at T.F. O’Brien. We make our best offer of the year on quality heating and cooling equipment, helping you save money and get into a better, more efficient system. Of course, the savings are one of the main benefits of our Shamrock sales event, but there are a few other reasons why you might want to consider replacing your equipment.

First, tell me more about the Shamrock sales event. How will I save?

When you purchase a new, high-efficiency system, you’ll be eligible for an amazing $4,245 savings. We’re bundling together an incredible offer* that makes saving some green easy! Here’s how we do it:

SAVE NOW
For more information,
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516.488.1800
  • FREE Humidifier with Complete Heating & AC System – $895 Value
  • Manufacturer and Utility Company Rebates – $3,000 Value (on select systems)
  • 12-Year Warranty
  • FREE Wi-Fi Thermostat – $350 Value

Okay, it looks like I’ll save the green! But why should I get new equipment?

There are many benefits to installing new home comfort equipment that go well beyond the money you’ll save. Here are five reasons why taking advantage of this offer is a great choice for you and your family:

  1. Your home will be more energy efficient. This is especially true if you currently have old equipment installed in your home. Changes in technology over the past few years have made today’s heating and cooling equipment much more efficient that its predecessors. For instance, according to the of Energy, a new furnace could potentially be up to 42% more efficient than an older system.
  2. You’ll be more comfortable. Many times, homeowners purchase their homes with the HVAC system already in place. Unfortunately, they may not know the system was not properly sized for the home. If this is the case, you and your family won’t get the maximum in home comfort from your system. Installing new equipment with T.F. O’Brien will ensure that your system is sized properly – so you enjoy the best comfort.
  3. Your Wi-Fi thermostat will help your system operate more effectively and efficiently. We’ve included a Wi-Fi thermostat in our offer not just because we wanted to add on a flashy, fun product. Wi-Fi thermostats provide you with the ultimate control over your system, and allow you to monitor it, even when you’re not home. No more running out the door and forgetting to set the thermostat back. If you forget, you can easily access it from your phone or computer, and make those changes wherever you are. Because you have greater control over your system, it will provide you with better efficiency – and ultimately savings on your utility bills.
  4. Your humidifier will help keep your home much more comfortable. Running the heat in the winter can dry out your home – and you. Keeping a proper moisture level will keep your skin from getting too dry, as well as your nose and throat, because the moisture levels will stay at the right level for optimal home comfort. And, you won’t have to worry about creaking floorboards and furniture.
  5. You’ll avoid costly breakdowns. If your system is getting on in years, the chances that it will need repair services in the (potentially near) future increase. Depending on the type of repairs needed, it could become very expensive to keep your system working properly. Not to mention, old heating and cooling systems are likely very inefficient as well, so between repair needs and spending more than you have to on energy, costs can add up.

Alright, let me know how I can take advantage of Shamrock Savings.

That’s the easy part! All you have to do is give us a call at 516.488.1800, and we’ll be happy to schedule an appointment with you. But you have to act quickly – our Shamrock sales event ends on St. Patrick’s Day – March 17, 2020. Give us a call today and let us help you get into better comfort and better efficiency this March!

* Ask us for details about the different financing options available with credit approval. Restrictions may apply. Total savings shown: $895 Humidification System, 12-year warranty, $350 Wi-Fi Thermostat, and $3,000 manufacturer and utility rebate available on select systems. Ask dealer for details. Offer Expires 3/17/20.

Look For These Features When Choosing Dehumidification Systems

Dehumidification Systems - Long Island, NYSummer in New York can become quite hot and humid and cause the air in your home to feel clammy. This is uncomfortable for you and potentially damaging to your home, as it invites mold. You will know that the humidity level is too high in your home if your windows are fogged, the walls are damp, and the air smells musty. Continue reading “Look For These Features When Choosing Dehumidification Systems”

Long Island Residents: Get More Comfort With Dehumidifiers

Given the lay of our land, it is not surprising that excess moisture is a common problem in Long Island homes. High humidity — especially in July and August — can make your home uncomfortable, leading to mold, the proliferation of dust mites, and an increase in allergens. Have you noticed: Continue reading “Long Island Residents: Get More Comfort With Dehumidifiers”

Humidifier Cleaning and Maintenance Tips

A whole-house humidifier can make dry, indoor heat feel so much more comfortable. The humidity level in a home also helps keep the thermostat set a degree or two lower which helps on energy costs. Although the humidifier demands relatively little attention, there are a few things that the homeowner should occasionally check to make sure everything is in good working order. Continue reading “Humidifier Cleaning and Maintenance Tips”

Use and Care of Home Humidifiers

Introduction

Humidifiers are commonly used in homes to relieve the physical discomforts of dry nose, throat, lips, and skin. The moisture they add to dry air also helps alleviate common nuisances brought on by winter heating, such as static electricity, peeling wallpaper, and cracks in paint and furniture. However, excess moisture can encourage the growth of biological organisms in the home. These organisms include dust mites, which are microscopic animals that produce materials causing allergic reactions to household dust, and molds.

Recent studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have shown that ultrasonic and impeller (or “cool mist”) humidifiers can disperse materials, such as microorganisms and minerals, from their water tanks into indoor air. At present, only limited information is available on the growth of microorganisms and the dispersal of microorganisms and minerals by home humidifiers.

Proper care and cleaning of ultrasonic and impeller humidifiers are important for reducing potential exposures to microorganisms, such as bacteria and molds. Microorganisms often grow in humidifiers which are equipped with tanks containing standing water. Breathing mist containing these pollutants has been implicated as causing a certain type of inflammation of the lungs.

The Federal government has not concluded that the dispersal of minerals by home humidifiers poses a serious health risk. Nevertheless, using water with lower mineral content will reduce exposures to these materials.

The young, the elderly, and those people with lung diseases or respiratory allergies may be particularly susceptible to certain types of airborne pollutants. However, if you follow the recommendations for the use and care of home humidifiers provided in this fact sheet, the potential for dispersal of microorganisms and minerals from your humidifier should be reduced.

Can I Use Tap Water in My Ultrasonic or Impeller Humidifier?

The Federal government has not concluded that using tap water in ultrasonic or impeller humidifiers poses a serious health risk. However, researchers have documented that these humidifiers are very efficient at dispersing minerals in tap water into the air. In addition, some consumers are bothered by a “white dust” that may appear on surfaces during use of these devices. Most importantly, minerals in tap water may increase the development of crusty deposits, or scale, in humidifiers. Scale can be a breeding ground for microorganisms.

Retarding the growth of scale is the most compelling reason to find alternatives to tap water. For this reason, or if white dust is a problem or you wish to minimize your exposure to minerals in the tap water as a matter of prudence, you should either:

1. Use bottled water labelled “distilled.” While distilled water still contains some mineral content, it will likely contain lower mineral content than most tap water. Distillation is the most effective method for removing minerals from water.

Two additional demineralization processes, deionization and reverse osmosis, remove most of the minerals from water, but are generally less effective than distillation. Water demineralized by these two processes would, on the average, be expected to contain a higher mineral content than distilled waters. “Purified” water may be produced by any of these three or other similar processes.

Be aware, however, that not all bottled water is produced using demineralization processes. Bottled waters labelled “spring”, “artesian” or “mineral” have not been treated to remove mineral content.

2. Consider using demineralization cartridges, cassettes, or filters if supplied or recommended for use with your humidifier

Be aware, however, that the ability of these devices to remove minerals may vary widely. Further research is needed to determine how well, and how long, these devices work. Watch for the appearance of “white dust,” which would indicate that minerals are not being removed.

Also, in areas of the country where the mineral content in the tap water is high, using distilled water may be less expensive than cartridges, cassettes, or filters.

Types of Humidifiers and Associated Pollutants

Console humidifiers are encased in cabinets which are designed for floor use. Portable humidifiers are smaller and more readily moved. Central humidifiers are built into heating and air-conditioning systems, and humidify the whole house.

The two types of humidifiers which generally appear to produce the greatest dispersions of both microorganisms and minerals are:

-Ultrasonic, which create a cool mist by means of ultrasonic sound vibrations.

-Impeller, or “cool mist,” which produce a cool mist by means of a high speed rotating disk.

Two additional types of humidifiers can allow for growth of micro-organisms if they are equipped with a tank that holds standing water, but generally disperse less, if any, of these pollutants into the air. These are:

-Evaporative, which transmit moisture into the air invisibly by using a fan to blow air through a moistened absorbent material, such as a belt, wick, or filter.

-Steam vaporizer, which create steam by heating water with an electrical heating element or electrodes. “Warm mist” humidifiers are a type of steam vaporizer humidifier in which the steam is cooled before exiting the machine.

Note: Steam vaporizer and evaporative humidifiers are not expected to disperse substantial amounts of minerals. A steam vaporizer tested by EPA did not disperse measurable amounts of minerals; evaporative humidifiers have not been tested by EPA for mineral dispersal.

Recommendations for Use and Care

It is important to use a humidifier only when conditions require it, to use the correct moisture setting for existing conditions, and to clean it thoroughly.

The possible health effects resulting from the dispersal of microorganisms and minerals by home humidifiers are not fully understood. Meanwhile, it may be prudent to reduce the potential for personal exposures to these materials by taking the following precautions, particularly when using ultrasonic and impeller humidifiers.

-Empty the tank, wipe all surfaces dry, and refill the water in portable humidifiers daily to reduce any growth of microorganisms; follow the manufacturer’s instructions for changing water in console humidifiers. Be sure you unplug the unit from the electrical socket first.

-Use water with low mineral content to prevent the build-up of scale and the dispersal of minerals into the air. See the box on the left for information on using water with low mineral content.

-Clean portable humidifiers every third day. Empty the tank and use a brush or other scrubber to clean it. Remove any scale, deposits, or film that has formed on the sides of the tank or on interior surfaces, and wipe all surfaces dry. Again, be sure you unplug the unit.

-Follow the manufacturer’s suggestions on the use of cleaning products or disinfectants. In the absence of specific recommendations, clean all surfaces coming in contact with water with a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide. If you use any cleaning or disinfecting agent, rinse the tank thoroughly with several changes of tap water to prevent dispersal of chemicals into the air during use.

-Follow the manufacturer’s directions on cleaning and maintaining console and central (furnace mounted) humidifiers. In particular, if the humidifier contains a tank, do not allow water to stand in the tank for extended periods of time, and keep the water clean.

-Keep steam vaporizer humidifiers out of the reach of children. Steam and boiling water may cause burns.

-Do not humidify to indoor relative humidity levels exceeding 50 percent. Higher humidity levels may encourage the growth of biological organisms in the home. Hygrometers, available at local hardware stores, may be used to measure humidity levels. Some humidifiers contain a built-in humidistat which may be adjusted to the proper moisture level. If water condenses on windows, walls, or pictures, either relocate the humidifier, lower its humidistat setting, or reduce its use.

-Do not permit the area around the humidifier to become damp or wet. If dampness occurs, turn the output volume of the humidifier down. If the humidifier output volume cannot be turned down, use the, humidifier intermittently. Do not allow absorbent materials, such as carpeting, drapes, or table cloths, to become damp.

-Follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the use, maintenance, and replacement of any materials supplied with the humidifier. Use appropriate materials as recommended by the product manufacturer.

-Clean the humidifier, as directed, at the end of the humidifying season or when the product will not be in frequent use. Before storage, make sure all the parts are dry. Dispose of all used demineralization cartridges, cassettes, or filters. Store the unit in a dry location. After storage, clean the unit again and remove any dust on the outside.

-Stop using your humidifier and contact your physician if you have respiratory symptoms which you believe are associated with periods of use of your home humidifier, even if you are following maintenance directions.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency

Benefits of a Whole-House Humidifier

We all know that dry air can be uncomfortable.  Your skin gets dry and itchy, your lips get chapped, static electricity makes your clothes and hair do funny things; and even breathing doesn’t always feel great.  But did you know that low humidity levels can also have several other negative effects?

A whole-house humidifier has many benefits, and they are not just limited to increasing your home comfort:

  • Improve indoor air quality: Proper moisture levels reduce bacteria, viruses, and other irritants and help lower the risk of respiratory infections.
  • Protect your home furnishings: Dry air can be damaging to wood floors, furniture, trim, and musical instruments.  Dry air also tends to be dustier, causing you to clean and vacuum more frequently.
  • Save energy: Dry air feels colder, which will make you turn up the heat in winter, using more energy and costing you money.  The proper humidity level will make you feel warmer and help keep utility bills down.

It is clear that proper humidity levels are important for home comfort, air quality, and energy savings, but why should you consider a whole-house humidifier?

  • Every room will have the same humidity level.
  • You don’t have to maintain several portable humidifiers throughout the house.
  • They do not use a reservoir, so there is no stagnant water available for mold and mildew to grow.
  • They use less energy than portable units, especially in the case of  flow-through humidification systems.
  • The don’t take up valuable space in our home; you don’t even see them!

There are several models and types of whole-house humidification systems available.  The model that is right for your home will depend on your existing heating and air conditioning system, the size of your home, and other factors.  We have a long history of helping our Long Island customers find the best home comfort solutions for their needs,  call us today to learn more about what a whole-house humidifier can do for you.

T.F. O’Brien services the Long Island, New York area.

Preventing Sinusitis

You’re coughing and sneezing and tired and achy. You think that you might be getting a cold. Later, when the medicines you’ve been taking to relieve the symptoms of the common cold are not working and you’ve now got a terrible headache, you finally drag yourself to the doctor. After listening to your history of symptoms and perhaps doing a sinus X-ray, the doctor says you have sinusitis.

Sinusitis simply means inflammation of the sinuses, but this gives little indication of the misery and pain this condition can cause. Chronic sinusitis, sinusitis that recurs frequently, affects an estimated 32 million people in the United States. Americans spend millions of dollars each year for medications that promise relief from their sinus symptoms.

Sinuses are hollow air spaces, of which there are many in the human body. When people say, “I’m having a sinus attack,” they usually are referring to symptoms in one or more of four pairs of cavities, or spaces, known as paranasal sinuses. These cavities, located within the skull or bones of the head surrounding the nose, include the frontal sinuses over the eyes in the brow area, the maxillary sinuses inside each cheekbone, the ethmoids just behind the bridge of the nose and between the eyes, and behind them, the sphenoids in the upper region of the nose and behind the eyes.

Each sinus has an opening into the nose for the free exchange of air and mucus, and each is joined with the nasal passages by a continuous mucous membrane lining. Therefore, anything that causes a swelling in the nose-an infection or an allergic reaction-also can affect the sinuses. Air trapped within an obstructed sinus, along with pus or other secretions, may cause pressure on the sinus wall. The result is the sometimes intense pain of a sinus attack. Similarly, when air is prevented from entering a paranasal sinus by a swollen membrane at the opening, a vacuum can be created that also causes pain.

Symptoms

Sinusitis has its own localized pain signals, depending upon the particular sinus affected. Headache upon awakening in the morning is characteristic of sinus involvement. Pain when the forehead over the frontal sinuses is touched may indicate inflammation of the frontal sinuses. Infection in the maxillary sinuses can cause the upper jaw and teeth to ache and the cheeks to become tender to the touch. Since the ethmoid sinuses are near the tear ducts in the corner of the eyes, inflammation of these cavities often causes swelling of the eyelids and tissues around the eyes and pain between the eyes. Ethmoid inflammation also can cause tenderness when the sides of the nose are touched, a loss of smell, and a stuffy nose. Although the sphenoid sinuses are less frequently affected, infection in this area can cause earaches, neck pain, and deep aching at the top of the head.

Other symptoms of sinusitis can include fever, weakness, tiredness, a cough that may be more severe at night, and runny nose or nasal congestion. In addition, drainage of mucus from the sphenoids down the back of the throat (postnasal drip) can cause a sore throat and can irritate the membranes lining the larynx (upper windpipe).

Causes

Most cases of acute sinusitis are caused by viruses and will clear up without treatment within two weeks. Viruses can enter the body through the nasal passages and set off a chain reaction resulting in sinusitis. For example, the nose reacts to an invasion by viruses that cause infections such as the common cold, flu, or measles by producing mucus and sending white blood cells to the lining of the nose, which congest and swell the nasal passages. When this swelling involves the adjacent mucous membranes of the sinuses, air and mucus are trapped behind the narrowed openings of the sinuses. If the sinus openings become too narrow to permit drainage of the mucus, then bacteria, which normally are present in the respiratory tract, begin to multiply. Most apparently healthy people harbor bacteria, such as Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae, in their upper respiratory tracts with no ill effects until the body’s defenses are weakened or drainage from the sinuses is blocked by a cold or other viral infection. The bacteria that may have been living harmlessly in the nose, throat, or sinus area can multiply and cause an acute sinus infection.

Medicines, too, can set off a nasal reaction with accompanying sinusitis. For example, intolerance to aspirin and other related non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, can be associated with sinusitis in patients with asthma or nasal polyps (small growths on the mucous membrane lining of the sinuses).

Sometimes, fungal infections can cause acute sinusitis. Although these organisms are abundant in the environment, they usually are harmless to healthy people, indicating that the human body has a natural resistance to them. Fungi, such as Aspergillus and Curvularia, can cause serious illness, in people whose immune systems are not functioning properly. Some people with fungal sinusitis have an allergic-type reaction to the fungi.

Chronic inflammation of the nasal passages (rhinitis) also can lead to sinusitis. Allergic rhinitis or hay fever (discussed below) is the mostcommon cause of chronic sinusitis and is a frequent cause of acute sinusitis. Vasomotor rhinitis, caused by humidity, cold air, alcohol, perfumes, and other environmental conditions, also can result in a sinus infection.

Chronic Sinusitis

Chronic sinusitis refers to inflammation of the sinuses that continues for weeks, months, or even years.

As noted above, allergies are the most common cause of chronic sinusitis. Inhalation of airborne allergens (foreign substances that provoke an allergic reaction), such as dust, mold, and pollen, often set off allergic reactions (allergic rhinitis) that, in turn, may contribute to sinusitis. People who are allergic to fungi can develop a condition called “allergic fungal sinusitis.” As body cells react against these inhaled substances, they release chemical compounds, such as histamine, at the mucosal surface. These chemicals then cause the nasal passages to swell and block drainage from the sinuses, resulting in sinusitis.

Damp weather, especially in northern temperate climates, or pollutants in the air and in buildings also can affect people subject to chronic sinusitis.

Chronic sinusitis can be caused by structural abnormalities of the nose, such as a deviated septum (the bony partition separating the two nasal passages), or by small growths called nasal polyps, both of which can trap mucus in the sinuses.

Diagnosis

Although a stuffy nose can occur in other conditions, like the common cold, many people confuse simple nasal congestion with sinusitis. A cold, however, usually lasts about seven days and disappears without treatment. Acute sinusitis often lasts longer than a week. A doctor can diagnose sinusitis by medical history, physical examination, X-rays, and if necessary, MRIs or CT scans (magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography).

Treatment

After diagnosing sinusitis and identifying a possible cause, a doctor can prescribe a course of treatment that will clear up the source of the inflammation and relieve the symptoms. Sinusitis is treated by re-establishing drainage of the nasal passages, controlling or eliminating the source of the inflammation, and relieving the pain. Doctors generally recommend decongestants to reduce the congestion, antibiotics to control a bacterial infection, if present, and pain relievers to reduce the pain.

Over-the-counter and prescription decongestant nose drops and sprays, however, should not be used for more than a few days. When used for longer periods, these drugs can lead to even more congestion and swelling of the nasal passages.

If symptoms do not improve within 10 to 14 days, the cause of sinusitis is likely to be bacterial. Most patients with sinusitis that is caused by bacteria can be treated successfully with antibiotics used along with a nasal or oral decongestant. A narrow-spectrum antibiotic — one that fights the most common bacteria — is the initial treatment recommended.

For many years, the combination of allergic disease and infectious sinusitis has been considered the most difficult form of sinus disease to treat. The patient with uncontrolled nasal allergies frequently experiences a lot of congestion, swelling, excess secretions, and discomfort in the sinus areas. Therefore, the patient should work with a doctor who understands the diagnosis and treatment of allergic diseases to pinpoint the cause of the allergies and follow an allergy care program to help alleviate sinusitis.

Doctors often prescribe steroid nasal sprays, along with other treatments, to reduce the congestion, swelling, and inflammation of sinusitis. Because steroid nasal sprays have no serious side effects, they can be used for long-term treatment. In some people, however, they irritate the nasal passages.

For patients with severe chronic sinusitis, a doctor may prescribe oral steroids, such as prednisone. Because oral steroids can have significant side effects, they are prescribed only when other medications have not been effective.

Although sinus infection cannot be cured by home remedies, people can use them to lessen their discomfort. Inhaling steam from a vaporizer or a hot cup of water can soothe inflamed sinus cavities. Another treatment is saline nasal spray, which can be purchased in a pharmacy. A hot water bottle; hot, wet compresses; or an electric heating pad applied over the inflamed area also can be comforting.

In treating patients with severe sinusitis, a physician may use special procedures. One technique requires the patient to lie on his back with his head over the edge of the examining table. A decongestant fluid is placed in the nose, and air is suctioned out of the nose so that the decongestant fluid can shrink the sinus membranes sufficiently to permit drainage. Or, a thin tube can be inserted into the sinuses for washing out entrapped pus and mucus.

Sometimes, however, surgery is the only alternative for preventing chronic sinusitis. In children, problems often are eliminated by removal of adenoids obstructing nasal-sinus passages. Adults who have had allergic and infectious conditions over the years sometimes develop polyps that interfere with proper drainage. Removal of these polyps and/or repair of a deviated septum to ensure an open airway often provides considerable relief from sinus symptoms. The most common surgery done today is functional endoscopic sinus surgery, in which the natural openings from the sinuses are enlarged to allow drainage.

Prevention

Although people cannot prevent all sinus disorders-any more than they can avoid all colds or bacterial infections-they can take certain measures to reduce the number and severity of the attacks and possibly prevent sinusitis from becoming chronic. Appropriate amounts of rest, a well-balanced diet, and exercise can help the body function at its most efficient level and maintain a general resistance to infections. Eliminating environmental factors, such as climate and pollutants, is not always possible, but they can often be controlled.

Many people with sinusitis find partial relief from their symptoms when humidifiers are installed in their homes, particularly if room air is heated by a dry forced-air system. Air conditioners help to provide an even temperature, and electrostatic filters attached to heating and air conditioning equipment are helpful in removing allergens from the air.

A person susceptible to sinus disorders, particularly one who also is allergic, should avoid cigarette smoke and other air pollutants.

Inflammation in the nose caused by allergies predisposes a patient to a strong reaction to all irritants. Drinking alcohol also causes the nasal-sinus membranes to swell.

Sinusitis-prone persons may be uncomfortable in swimming pools treated with chlorine, since it irritates the lining of the nose and sinuses. pers often experience congestion with resulting infection when water is forced into the sinuses from the nasal passages.

Air travel, too, poses a problem for the inpidual suffering from acute or chronic sinusitis. A bubble of air trapped within the body expands as air pressure in a plane is reduced. This expansion causes pressure on surrounding tissues and can result in a blockage of the sinuses or the eustachian tubes in the ears. The result may be discomfort in the sinus or middle ear during the plane’s ascent or descent. Doctors recommend using decongestant nose drops or inhalers before the flight to avoid this difficulty.

People who suspect that their sinus inflammation may be related to dust, mold, pollen, or food-or any of the hundreds of allergens that can trigger a respiratory reaction-should consult a doctor. Various tests can determine the cause of the allergy and also help the doctor recommend steps to reduce or limit allergy symptoms.

NIAID, a component of the National Institutes of Health, supports research on AIDS, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases as well as allergies and immunology.
Prepared by:

Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892

Public Health Service:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
June 1998