In this article:
Post-nasal drip, sinus headaches, and nasal congestion are symptoms that most people experience at some point in their lives. Yet, people with thyroid disease may be more likely to have these symptoms. Here is a look at why your sinus troubles may be yet another symptom of hypothyroidism—as if there weren't already enough!
Most of us know very little about these spacious cavities in our skull. And rarely do we think about them unless we are struggling with a head cold or allergies. But the sinuses play several crucial roles and can easily make us feel unwell when they are, well, unwell.
The bones in our face and skull have air-filled pockets located in the cheekbones, forehead, on either side of the nose. These pockets serve to make our heads lighter, improve our voices, and enhance our ability to taste and smell. Most importantly, the sinuses produce mucous that moisturizes and protects the nasal passages from allergens, pollutants, dust particles, and microorganisms. Tiny hairlike structures, called cilia, move the mucous and its trapped contents to the back of the throat so that it can be swallowed and eventually removed from the body.
Many things can affect your sinuses, including:
- Bacterial infections
- Allergic sinusitis
- Allergic rhinitis
- Nasal obstructions (like polyps)
- Sinus headaches
- Sinus infections from Graves' disease
- Difficulty smelling or tasting
The thyroid affects every system in your body. Its primary role is to regulate the body's metabolism, affecting everything from cellular growth and development to bowel habits.
The thyroid's influence is a little less straightforward when it comes to your sinuses, but there is nonetheless a meaningful connection. People with allergic sinusitis and rhinitis are more likely to have thyroid problems than the general population—the reason why this correlation exists lies within your immune system.
One of the leading causes of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition that can eventually force the thyroid gland to fail. In Hashimoto's, the body's immune system mistakenly identifies thyroid tissue as foreign. It begins to attack it with specialized immune cells. Over time, the thyroid gland becomes inflamed and cannot continue making enough thyroid hormone to support the body.
An overactive immune system is also responsible for allergies, although allergies and autoimmunity are different beasts. Nonetheless, when a person's immune system is too hyperactive, it can cause several health conditions in a single person, such as multiple autoimmune diseases (polyautoimmunity) and allergies.
Certainly not. Many people struggle with sinus troubles, including seasonal allergies, and do not have a thyroid condition. However, suppose you have a recurrent sinus problem that is not managed well with medication. In that case, it may help to have your thyroid checked.
Research shows that nasal stuffiness, sinus congestion, and impaired hearing are common symptoms experienced by people with hypothyroidism. Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), a type of polysaccharide (carbohydrate) found in respiratory epithelial cells, play an important role in inflammation in your sinuses and respiratory passages.
GAGs also happen to be the same chemical substance behind facial puffiness in people with hypothyroidism. Thus, sinus inflammation may be a sign that other inflammatory processes are occurring.
Before jumping to any conclusions, your doctor likely will recommend you try allergy medications before exploring a possible thyroid condition.
Testing for a thyroid condition is relatively straightforward. An at-home thyroid blood test that measures thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), free T3, free T4, and TPO antibodies can reveal a lot about your thyroid health. Additionally, a review of your symptoms is also helpful in diagnosing a thyroid condition.
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Fatigue and sluggishness
- Muscle weakness
- Joint pain
- Slowed thoughts and movements
- Cold intolerance
- Weight gain
- Dry skin and brittle nails
- Irregular or heavy periods
If you do have hypothyroidism, you work with your doctor who will likely prescribe a thyroid hormone replacement medication to replace the thyroid hormone that is lacking or absent in your body.
People with sinus issues often share that they simply don't feel well, but they can't seem to find the cause. Usually, they start by addressing their main symptoms, such as sinus pressure or post-nasal drip. Yet, even after trying treatment with medications such as nasal corticosteroid sprays or antihistamines, they still don't feel quite right.
If you are in this position, it may be time to look at other factors that may be making you feel unwell. Having blood tests to look at other possible causes, including thyroid disease, can help you rule things out and hopefully help you find the root cause. It can also help to visit an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT) to further investigate your symptoms.
If your doctor prescribes medication, it is crucial to take it as your doctor recommends. For example, if you are taking a nasal corticosteroid, make sure to use it as directed. Similarly, if you have a thyroid condition like hypothyroidism, you must take your thyroid replacement medication daily and as directed by your thyroid doctor.
Keep in mind certain things can interfere with how your medication works, including taking other supplements and vitamins simultaneously and eating certain foods.
Additionally, you will want to avoid any triggers that cause your symptoms to worsen. For example, people with allergic sinusitis will want to avoid allergens that flare their symptoms, such as pet dander and dust. Keep in mind allergies can also cause a thyroid flare-up, which can worsen your thyroid symptoms like fatigue and lethargy.
A note from Paloma Health
If you are constantly battling post-nasal drip or frequent sinus infections, it may also be time to check your thyroid.
Save on your first at-home thyroid test kit: