Thyroid Disease: Allergies, Sinus Infections, and Migraines

headache, allergies, migraine, sinusitis, sinus infections, thyroid
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Many thyroid patients do not realize that headaches, seasonal allergies, sinus infections (also known as sinusitis), and migraines can be symptoms of undiagnosed or undertreated hypothyroidism. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, the first stop is your doctor for a thorough evaluation.

If you have a diagnosed thyroid condition, make sure that your treatment is optimized. A person with a chronic headache, allergy, sinus infection or migraine should also have a complete thyroid evaluation to rule out the possibility of an undiagnosed thyroid condition.

Most people know what a headache feels like, but in order to get the right treatment, it is important to differentiate the symptoms of allergies, sinusitis, and migraine.

Allergy Symptoms and Treatments

The symptoms of allergies can include:

  • Nasal congestion or a runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • A nasal discharge, usually clear or whitish
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • General headache
  • A sore or scratchy throat
  • A cough, post-nasal drip
  • Itchy skin or hives
  • Fatigue
  • Wheezing

Your seasonal or airborne allergy symptoms will typically disappear when you are not exposed to the allergen. Sinus infections, however, tend to last for weeks. Migraines can be acute for several hours to several days, and may recur periodically, or when exposed to triggers.

Avoiding exposure—by using protective masks and air filters, washing hair after being outdoors, and closing windows, for example—is helpful for some patients. You may find nasal washing (also known as neti) helpful in rinsing allergens out of your nasal passages.

A variety of antihistamines are available over-the-counter and by prescription. A variety of topical nasal sprays are also available by prescription, including Flonase and Nasonex. Prescription corticosteroids sprays and inhalers may also help reduce inflammation associated with more severe allergies.

Immunotherapy is sometimes recommended for severe allergies. This can include allergy shots, which over the course of treatment can reduce the reaction to allergens. Sublingual immunotherapy drops are also available by prescription and may work more quickly that traditional allergy shots.

Sinusitis Symptoms and Treatments

The symptoms of a sinus infection can include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • A nasal discharge, especially when yellow, greenish, or grayish
  • General headache
  • A feeling of pressure or pain in the face, cheeks, top of the nose, between the eyes, or in the forehead
  • A sore or scratchy throat
  • A cough
  • A reduced sense of smell
  • Dental pain, especially in the upper teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Ear pain or pressure
  • Fever

Sinus infections have more acute symptoms than allergies and last longer. They also do not go away when the allergen is removed, as is common in allergies.

For low-grade sinus infections, you may benefit from irrigating your sinus passages with saline wash or using steam. Saline nasal spray may also be helpful. You should stay well hydrated as it helps thin mucous.

In some cases, non-prescription pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may be used for pain, and decongestants may help with congestion.

Most sinus infections are viral and don't respond to antibiotics. Typically, doctors wait up to two weeks to determine if the sinusitis will resolve on its own. When it doesn't clear up on its own, or if bacterial sinusitis is suspected, antibiotics, and in some cases nasal steroid drugs, may be prescribed.

Migraine Symptoms and Treatments

Many thyroid patients report an increase in the incidence of sinus infections, but diagnosing yourself with a sinus infection may be leading you in the wrong direction in terms of proper treatment. This is why it's particularly important to know the symptoms of migraine headaches:

  • In the several days before the onset of a migraine, you may have early symptoms including irritability, stiff neck, depression or mood changes, yawning, or food cravings, among other symptoms.
  • Some people experience something known as aura, either before or during a migraine. Aura is described as disturbances in your vision, including light flashes, impaired vision, strange sensations in arms or legs, problems with speech or language, or weakness in your extremities.
  • During a migraine—which can last several hours and up to several days—you may have pain on one or both sides of your head, pain in your face or eyes, pain that throbs, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound, nausea, vomiting, impaired vision, dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting.

Some studies have shown that the majority of people who think they have chronic, recurrent sinus infections are actually experiencing chronic migraines. Treatment for migraines typically falls into several categories:

  • Preventive drugs—These drugs are given regularly to reduce the incidence or severity of migraines. They may be taken at the onset of a migraine to help slow or stop the progression.
  • Pain-reliving drugs—These are taken during a migraine, to slow or stop symptoms. Over-the-counter medications, including acetaminophen, aspirin, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen may be used to treat mild migraines. Over-the-counter migraine formulas that combine pain relievers with caffeine may also help with mild-to-moderate migraine pain. Prescription medications include indomethacin and triptan drugs, which are in some cases available as suppositories, tablets, nasal sprays, and injections. Less commonly, narcotic pain relievers or steroid drugs may be given.
  • Preventive therapy—For those who have chronic migraines, preventive therapy may be recommended. Preventive therapy may include beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and botulinum toxin (Botox) injections, among other options.

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