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Category Archives: SINUS INFECTION

Can Clogged Ears be Caused by Allergies?

The simple answer to this question is yes.

Eustachian tube dysfunction is a condition where the the eustachian tubes of the middle ear do not open and close the correct way.  The eustachian tubes are small tubes that go from the middle ear (the part of the ear behind the eardrum) to the back of the throat.  There is one eustachian tube for each ear.  The eustachian tubes are about 1 1/2 inches long and regulate the air pressure between the middle ear and the atmosphere outside the ear.  The eustachian tubes also serve the purpose of draining fluid and mucus from the middle ear.  Normally, the tubes are closed.  When there is an increase in atmospheric pressure ( e.g., high altitudes, deep water) people typically will intentionally swallow, yawn, or chew gum in order to force the eustachian tube open which will cause an equalization in pressure.  If someone is unable to equalize this pressure difference, one may experience ear pain, a clogged or blocked feeling of the ears, decreased hearing, ringing of the ears (tinnitus), a fullness of the ears, popping of the ears, and/or dizziness.

There are a variety of causes of eustachian tube dysfunction.  Swelling of the eustachian tubes can occur due to allergies (i.e., allergic rhinitis, hay fever)upper respiratory infections (URI’s), and sinus infections.  The swelling causes the tubes to stay closed, preventing them from opening with the normal everyday functions such as swallowing and yawning.  As a result, a pressure difference occurs between the middle ear and the outside atmospheric pressure causing the symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction to develop.  One may complain of ears that are painful, blocked, full, popping, etc.  Fluid may also collect in the middle ear which can further increase one’s symptoms.  In addition, the fluid can get infected which will often lead to ear infections (otitis media).  Note that the length of the eustachian tubes is shorter, and thus more easily blocked, in children than in adults, predisposing them to a higher risk of ear infections; this is a reason to see a pediatric allergist here in McLean, Manassas or Washington, DC as soon as possible. /2015/08/04/can-clogged-ears-be-caused-by-allergies/ /2015/08/04/can-clogged-ears-be-caused-by-allergies/ /2015/08/04/can-clogged-ears-be-caused-by-allergies/ Cigarette smoking, enlarged adenoids, and obesity are other factors that can predispose and/or cause eustachian tube dysfunction.

As mentioned above, allergies play an important role in causing eustachian tube dysfunction.  Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is a condition where there is inflammation and swelling in the nasal and sinus regions due to an allergen such as pollen, dust mites, molds, and animals.  It is the swelling component of this allergic condition which contributes to the symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction.

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have been diagnosing and treating children and adults with “clogged ears” for over 50 years in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area.  Diagnosing and treating the underlying condition, which often is due to allergies, is the primary way to alleviate the “clogged ears.”  There are numerous allergy medications (i.e., decongestants, nasal corticosteroid sprays, antihistamines), as well as allergy immunotherapy (allergy shots) that can be utilized in order to treat and/or prevent “clogged ears.”  If you suffer from these symptoms or other allergy symptoms, please call any one of our 3 convenient office locations in the DC metro area.  We have offices in Washington, DC, McLean, VA, (Tyson’s Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA.  All 3 offices have on-site parking and the Washington, DC and McLean, VA locations are Metro accessible.  You can also click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day.  Black & Kletz Allergy is dedicated to help you get relief from your allergy symptoms in a caring professional environment.


As Winter approaches, people with dust, mold, and pet allergies tend to suffer more than those with pollen allergies.  Pollen levels in the mid-Atlantic region (Washington, DC, Virginia, Maryland, etc.) become immeasurable once the first frost occurs.  The first frost usually occurs by November in our region of the country.  Therefore, when people experience the typical allergy symptoms during the late Fall and Winter months, dust mites and/or molds are generally the culprits.  Keep in mind that there are other causes of these symptoms, namely the common cold, flu (influenza), or other upper respiratory tract infection (i.e., sinus infection, bronchitis).  How does one know the difference between winter allergies, a “cold,” the “flu” or other type of upper respiratory tract infection?


Winter Allergies – the same symptoms as seasonal allergies and can include all or some of the following:  runny nose, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip, sore throat, cough, sneezing, itchy nose, itchy eyes, watery eyes, red eyes, itchy throat, fatigue, sinus headaches, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

Common Cold – can include all or some of the above symptoms, but in addition may contain achiness, fever, and chills, although discolored nasal discharge and a fever do not occur in most cases of the common cold.

“Flu” (also referred to as influenza) – can include all or some of the symptoms of the common cold, but unlike a “cold,” there is usually severe achiness and/or headache, and a fever is almost always present.

Note:  For the flu season of 2014-2015, one must be cognizant of the recent Ebola epidemic in Western Africa.  If a person develops “flu-like” symptoms and has traveled to Western Africa and/or if they have been in contact with someone infected with the Ebola virus in the last 21 days, he or she must assume that they could have Ebola and should contact the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and local county and state health agencies for guidance about seeking medical care at an appropriate hospital.  If one cannot get in touch with the CDC or local health agency, they should go immediately to closest emergency room.

Sinus Infection (also referred to as sinusitis) – can include all or some of the symptoms of the common cold, but unlike a “cold,” there usually is discolored nasal discharge, sinus pain and/or pain that radiates to the teeth.


Winter Allergies – Dust mites; Molds: Pets; Cockroaches

Common Cold – Viruses [Rhinoviruses, Coronaviruses, Parainfluenza viruses, and Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are the most common ones]; Note that there are many more viruses that cause the common cold. “Flu” – Viruses (Influenza virus types A, B, and/or C)

Sinus Infection – Viruses, Bacteria, and/or Fungi (Most are caused by viruses)

HOW ARE THESE CONDITIONS DIAGNOSED? Besides a thorough history of your symptoms and a physical examination, the following also help our physicians distinguish between the 4 common conditions below:

Winter Allergies – An experienced allergist can perform blood and/or skin tests to evaluate if you have a true allergy to one of the many allergens that can cause winter allergy symptoms.  When symptoms last longer than 1-2 weeks or there is a history of recurring symptoms every Winter or perennial (year-round) symptoms, allergies should be a top concern.

Common Cold – Typically the symptoms last less than 1 week in duration and resolve on their own.

“Flu” – A fever is the hallmark of this condition.  The flu can be very serious particularly in the elderly.  There are rapid influenza diagnostic tests that can identify the flu in about 30 minutes.  These require that the physician to wipe the inside of the back of one’s throat or nose with a swab and then send it for testing.  They are not 100% accurate however.

Sinus Infection – The symptoms may begin as a result of an individual being exposed to an allergen, virus, and/or bacteria.  A thorough history together with a complete examination of the ears, nose, mouth, and throat can usually identify a sinus infection in the majority of patients.  Further diagnostic studies such as a CT scan of the sinuses may be necessary in some individuals.  When there is recurrent sinus infections, the diagnosis of chronic sinusitis and/or an immunologic disorder should be investigated by an experienced allergist.


Winter Allergies – There are many allergy medications that can be used which include tablets, syrups, nasal sprays, and/or allergy shots (allergy immunotherapy or allergy injections).

Common Cold – Usually self-limited and generally does not require treatment except to help relieve symptoms with medications and nasal sprays.

“Flu” – Usually self-limited and generally does not require treatment except to help relieve symptoms with medications and nasal sprays.  Occasionally a severe case or a case in the elderly may need hospital care of complications from the flu which can include dehydration, pneumonia, and other more severe complications. Antiviral flu medications can be taken to reduce the duration and severity of the flu. These medications work best if they are taken within the first 48 hours of the beginning of symptoms, however they can still be effective if taken later.

Sinus Infection – May need to be treated with antibiotics if it persists or is recurrent.  Other medications may also be used if needed to help alleviate the symptoms with tablets, syrups, and/or nasal sprays.


Winter Allergies – Avoidance of dust mites, molds, and pet exposure.  Allergy medications and/or allergy shots (allergy immunotherapy or allergy injections).

Common Cold – Washing of hands; good hygiene; avoidance of crowded areas.

“Flu” – Flu vaccination (unless one has a reason not to take it such as egg allergy, previous reaction to the flu vaccine or the preservative used in the flu vaccine, etc.).  In addition, one should avoid exposure to people with the flu.  They should also practice good hygiene, avoid crowded areas during the flu season, wash their hands, etc.

Sinus Infection – Control allergies; washing of hands, good hygiene; avoidance of crowded areas.

As one can see from the information above, it may not be so easy for the average person to distinguish the difference between Winter allergies, the common cold, the flu, and a sinus infection.  Many of the symptoms are the same, similar, and/or overlap.  The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have the expertise to help diagnose the correct ailment and more importantly, treat your problem.  We have 3 office locations in the Washington, DC metro and Virginia areas and we will be happy to schedule a visit for you at your earliest convenience.

Summertime Sickness: Sinus Infection vs. the Common Cold

As the tree and grass pollen season is winding down in the Washington DC area, “summer colds” are playing a bigger role in symptoms that include stuffy nose, runny nose, eye irritation, sore throat, and cough in many people.

Also read: Sinus Infection vs. Cold: Symptoms & Treatment Options

The common cold is caused by a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract passages.  Different strains of viruses are responsible for these infections in different seasons.   Whereas rhinoviruses cause most of the colds in the winter, enteroviruses are more prevalent in summer.

The symptoms usually begin as sneezing spells followed by nasal congestion, runny nose, and a redness and burning sensation of the eyes.  More serious eye problems, may be better handled by a Washington DC ophthalmologist. They are usually followed by a sore throat, occasional dry cough, and fatigue.  Many individuals also experience headaches and a mild fever. The illness may last for 5 to 7 days and usually resolves by itself.

Though, no medication is needed to eradicate the infection, the symptoms can be relieved and the person can be made to feel more comfortable by taking some of the following steps:

  1. Irrigating the nasal cavity with a saline spray and over-the-counter (OTC) oral decongestants to unclog the nostrils and help breathe easier.  (Note that  individuals with high blood pressure, heart problems, prostate conditions, and other various diseases should not use decongestants)
  2. Though the OTC nasal decongestant sprays can give quicker relief, if they are used more than 3 days continuously, they can cause “rebound” congestion when their effect wears off.   This can lead to a habituation and dependency and is called “rhinitis medicamentosa.”   Therefore, never use an OTC nasal decongestant such as Afrin (oxymetazoline) or Neosynephrine (phenylephrine) more than 3 days.
  3. OTC pain medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen to relieve headache, achiness, and/or fever.
  4. Gargling with warm salt water and using throat lozenges to soothe the throat irritation.
  5. Get rest and drink plenty of oral fluids while the immune system is fighting the virus.

However, in some instances the upper respiratory infections can also progress to involve the linings inside the sinuses.  (Sinuses are air-filled cavities within the facial bones and are present behind the forehead, around the eyes, and behind the cheek bones).  This complication can not only prolong the duration of the illness, but can also result in additional symptoms such as fever, facial pain/tenderness, persistent thick and discolored nasal secretions, post-nasal drip, and/or frequent productive coughing, which are symptoms consistent with a sinus infection.  People with a history of asthma may also experience aggravation of their breathing problems and the more frequent need for their rescue medications.

If the symptoms are persisting in spite of the OTC medications and comfort measures (especially if the symptoms last more than 1 week), it is time to consult your Manassas, VA sinus problem doctor for evaluation and treatment. Black & Kletz Allergy’s Washington, DC specialists will help you beat your summer allergies for good.

Sinus Infection vs. Cold: Symptoms & Treatment Options

When we have frequent nasal congestion, runny noses, sneezing fits, and itchy, red, watery eyes, the common dilemma arises:   Is it a sinus infection vs. a cold?  How do I treat either?

Sinus Infection vs. Cold:  Differences
The “common cold” refers to an infection caused by germs like viruses affecting the upper respiratory passages.  It causes inflammation of the tissues inside the nose and surrounding areas (Infectious Rhinitis).  It usually begins with nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing.  The nasal secretions are usually clear to start with but can turn into light yellow after a few days.  One can also have a sore throat, cough, and mild fever.  Most symptoms usually subside after about a week without any treatment, though the cough can linger for a few weeks.  This condition is more frequent in winter months and common in children who attend daycare and preschool, due to repeated exposure to viruses.  Adults usually get less frequent “colds” because their more mature immune systems can resist and fight more effectively.

“Allergic Rhinitis,” on the other hand, is the inflammation of the nose and eyes (conjunctivitis) caused by exposure to allergens like dust mites, animal dander, mold spores and various pollens in a susceptible individual.  The symptoms of a sinus infection are somewhat similar to “common colds,” but itching can be more prominent and fever is usually not present.  One important differentiating feature is that the symptoms usually do not remit after a few days but can persist either throughout a particular season or throughout the year depending on the specific triggering agents.  In more severe cases, the condition can have a substantial impact on the quality of life and productivity.  Allergic sensitivity can also play a role in the causation of repeated ear infections and contribute to lower airway disorders like asthma.

Sinus Infection vs. Cold:  Similarities
Both Infectious and Allergic rhinitis can also lead to a “sinus infection or sinusitis” where the lining and tissues inside the sinuses (hollow cavities inside the facial bones) are inflamed.  This can result in facial pressure and/or pain, headache, fatigue, fever, discolored secretions, persistent post nasal drip or drainage, sore throat, and cough.  The condition can be caused either by viruses (which do not need antibiotics) or less frequently by bacteria, especially if the symptoms last for several weeks.

Allergic Rhinitis and Allergic Conjunctivitis, not relieved by simple over the counter (OTC) remedies, require thorough evaluation and management by qualified allergists, who can offer long lasting symptom relief, prevent complications, and improve the quality of life in these individuals.  If you have any additional sinus infection vs. cold questions, please contact the allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy.