Sphynx versus sinuses

Bet you can't take your eyes off of Rex, a Sphynx cat, either.

Rex, Sam’s hairless cat – excuse me, Sphynx – has a thing for coffee. His motto: I came, I saw, I spilled it. He soaks keyboards, knocks over furniture – not thought possible given his weight.

I saw him leap from the kitchen counter, bounce off an unsuspecting guest’s shoulder and land atop the cabinets.

Worshipped, he’s the official family screen saver, dinner conversation – “You won’t believe what the cat did today…” – and snuggler.

All’s well in Catsville, except one minor inconvenience: Sam’s cat allergy.

Sam wears long sleeves; Rex’s nails mark his skin like calligraphy. He’s constantly congested.

A week ago, Sam had a mild cold. Overnight, pain developed on the right side of his nose. The skin turned blotchy and swollen. His doctor diagnosed him with sinusitis and prescribed antibiotics.

A few days later, as the right side improved, the left side started. Why hadn’t the antibiotics worked? It’s complicated.

What are sinuses?

Sinuses are odd-shaped air cavities in our skulls. We have four pairs: behind the eyebrows, between the eyes, on the cheeks and behind the eyeballs.

Why in tarnation do we need holes in our skulls?  

One theory: Holes lighten the weight of the skull, so we can hold our heads up – still believing in bipartisanship.

Sinuses drain into our noses. When a cold strikes, inflamed sinuses swell and block easily and frequently. With common colds, 90% of people exhibit symptoms of sinusitis.

Fortunately, most acute sinusitis gets better on its own. (I’m not discussing sinusitis that lasts longer than a month; it’s a different beast.) After a week or two, over 80% feel better without antibiotics. Studies show antibiotics help little. Doctors need to treat 18 people with antibiotics for one to feel better, earlier.

Rarely, sinusitis can develop severe complications (up to 0.08%). Early use of antibiotics makes no difference.


Like the common cold, sinusitis is usually caused by a virus. Antibiotics, like amoxicillin, cannot kill viruses. About 0.5% to 2% progress to acute bacterial sinusitis. Doctors can’t rely on symptoms like the color of nasal discharge, severity or duration of symptoms to differentiate bacterial from viral infection.

Most guidelines restrict antibiotics use to bad cases. In healthy people, like Paul, he can start antibiotics or wait it out for a week or so.

Paul couldn’t sleep, developed diarrhea (probably from the antibiotics). Ibuprofen helped his facial pain and headaches. The left-sided pain ran its course; after two weeks, he was fine.

Paul, 57, asked: Why now?

The chronic congestion from his cat allergy is a potential risk factor for sinusitis. If sinusitis recurs frequently, it’s worthwhile looking for risk factor(s) – if something can be done.

Speaking of which, I bet you can’t take your eyes off Rex, either. He’s so, so wrinkly, sinewy, exotic, deliberate and – so naked. I swear I can see the stomach outline of his lunch.

Modern Sphynx, Sam explained, are descendants of two lines of feral cats found in Minnesota and Toronto, Canada.

Humble heritage, allergy, sinusitis be damned: the cat stays.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 10:05 AM, 03.03.2020