Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I, Nose

My nose could be my Achilles heel. Which would really stink, eh?

I've been wrestling with nasal congestion on a daily basis for the last several years. I know, the obvious solution is to get rid of my cats, right? Yeah. Why don't you try kicking your family out sometime? Besides, I'm not 100% certain, but I think these nose problems go back farther than my career as a cat slave.

About nine nights out of ten, I can sleep through the night just fine with the aid of a mild, over-the-counter decongestant. The tenth night, I wake myself up to breathe every 30 seconds or so, which isn't very restful. Or else the sound of my nose quacking like a duck startles me awake. It's nights like those when I yearn for the type of super-powered decongestant my doctor once gave me when I had one of those colds that make me wonder whether I'm going to live through the night. Together with cough syrup, this was all my doctor really had to give me, since without the rest I needed to heal, such nights simply meant I would stay sicker longer.

For that kind of night, I now rely on a few other non-medical remedies. First, there is the Breathe Right Nasal Strip, or its generic equivalent, which (I find) really does enhance your airway, if only you can keep it stuck to your skin all night long. The adhesive doesn't like moisture, including skin oil. So you have to wash your face very thoroughly with a soft cloth, then towel it dry, then figure out how to position the adhesive strip on your nose so that it provides the maximum tug on the opening of your nostrils. And then you have to duct-tape your hands to your knees so that you won't pick at the ticklish spot on your face in the middle of the night. Even then, odds are even that you'll wake up at 3 a.m. with one end of your adhesive strip flying free above the bridge of your nose. Once they come unstuck, they won't stick again. So an ample supply is recommended.

Another help is a little squeeze-bottle of saline fluid. I don't know exactly how it works, but it seems to help me. I doubt that the solution has enough salt in it to dessicate the swollen membranes of my nasal passages. More likely, it just provides a little moisture and lubricant for passages dried out by central heating or air conditioning. And maybe it also helps to loosen up debris (loose hairs, fossilized boogers, various types of grit, etc.) that may have gotten caught up there. The downside is what it feels like at the moment you squirt the fluid up your nose. My left nostril, for instance, is often so blocked that the fluid hardly penetrates at all. Tonight, however, I sucked it all the way into the back of my throat and almost choked on it.

Meanwhile, the right nostril provides a direct route from the tip of the squeeze-bottle to every sinus in my skull. After a good snort of the saline fluid, I experience two or three seconds of exquisite agony that spreads over the top of my head, all the way to the back where my skull meets my spine. Whatever it does, that saline solution must be doing it. Way too many nerve endings are saying so for me to doubt it.

Happily, this is not one of those nights when the effort of sucking air through my nose will be more than I can handle while in a deep sleep. Even more happily, it's not one of those one-in-three-hundred nights when I can barely manage it while awake - and God help me if my concentration slips! Those nights are as miserable as they are rare, so I'm thankful that they're rare. Some people have to live that way all their lives. I can see that would be tough.

My third airway issue is acid reflux. I only suffer from it occasionally, but when it does hit me, I tend to find out about it when I wake up in the wee hours, choking on stomach acid. The best medicine for this problem is preventative. I'm learning not to eat anything, to drink very little, and particularly to avoid anything acidic or fizzy after about 8 p.m. I can also verify that losing weight can help with this problem. As my weight has gone up and down, I have found that I suffer fewer bouts of heartburn during the down-swings. As for what to do when prevention is a bust, I haven't tried anything more sophisticated than Alka-Seltzer (or, again, a generic "Effervescent Pain Relief"). Plop, plop, fizz, fizz... It takes longer for the tablets to effervesce than for this miracle drug to take effect. I try never to be without it, whether I'm at home, at work, or traveling out of town. And by keeping uninvited fluids out of my esophagus when I'm in a horizontal position, this unsung mainstay of the medicine cabinet has also helped to keep my airway open through many a long, restless night.

Sleep is still the best medicine. Sometimes, however, we need medicine to sleep. I haven't yet come to the point where I needed to take sleeping pills. But anything that will relieve a headache for a couple of hours can open the door to a healing dose of Z's. And those Z's, in turn, can help me straighten out whatever is causing my headache. The same, I am almost sure, could be said about colds (or bronchitis, laryngitis, ear infections, and whatever else I've had over the past few years). Maybe allergies too. Those tend to worsen in direct proportion to my level of stress. And nothing relieves stress quite like a long, lazy loll in bed. If it takes antacid, nasal decongestant, saline fluid, and an adhesive strip to make that loll as long and lazy as I need, so be it!

No comments: