In wintertime my nose acts as a thermometer. As a cold front approaches I find myself using more Kleenex than usual. When freezing temperatures arrive, my sinuses function as though someone has clipped a clothespin to my schnoz.
I have chronic sinusitis, an inflammation of the sinuses. It bothers me only in winter, which my doctor attributes to the season’s dry, cold air.
I occasionally take decongestants, but they are known to make blood pressure rise. A humidifier is helpful at night and a steroids-based anti-inflammatory spray (despite the steroids, I still can’t hit a baseball very far) gives some relief during the day, provided the weather isn’t too cold. Nothing helps when it’s really freezing.
Some friends have suggested I give myself a sinus rinse, but it seems too gross for me to even contemplate trying. The process involves a rubber tube that if inserted at the wrong angle will cause a salty solution to go down the back of your throat and in your eyes. A website dedicated to sinusitis recommends performing sinus rinses in the shower, “So you don’t create a mess.” Yuck!
The dry heat that comes out of my radiator exacerbates my congestion, so I go through the winter without ever turning it on. On the coldest days, I wear a coat in my apartment, making me feel like a tenant in a building owned by a slumlord.
The most annoying byproduct of sinusitis is the constant nose blowing. When I exceed my limit of 60 honks an hour, I get a knife-like throbbing above my eyes, lasting an entire day.
Once I feel the first twang of pain, I jettison my jet-
expulsion-force blowing for persistent sniffling. To clear my pipes I have to sniffle really hard, producing a noise that sounds more like a snore or a snort than a sniffle. Whether my unclogging is considered a sniffle, snore or snort, it is loud and—judging from the sidelong glances my vacuum-like inhaling attracts—unappealing.
As a result of my flu-like behavior, people always think I have a cold. “Are you sick?” I get asked several times a day.
Sometimes I’ll let off two or three sonic-boom quality sneezes in quick succession, followed by a symphony of blowing and sniffling, devolving into dripping, which requires me to use my sleeve when I run out of tissue. When this happens on the subway, panicked passengers sitting near me will give up their seats as if they fear I am disseminating the Ebola virus.
Even more embarrassing: Blood will sometimes drip from my nostrils—without notice. This once happened on a blind date, setting an un-romantic tone for the evening. Besides ruining an average of three dress shirts a year, the sudden bleeding makes me worry that people will think I’m a cocaine addict, in need of rhinoplasty.
Sinusitis is more an annoyance than anything else. Still, my discomfort half makes me wish that global warming would quicken its pace.
To give my nasal passages a break, I take an annual winter vacation to a hot-weather climate. This February I am visiting my brother in Los Angeles. I can’t wait to breath in the warm L.A. smog.
Ben Krull is a lawyer and essayist who lives on the Upper East Side.
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