Your allergy symptoms might not be allergies at all

It’s that time of the year in Southwest Florida when flu season and allergy season overlap. Chances are, either you or someone you know has itchy eyes, a sore throat, hoarse voice, persistent cough and a runny nose or stuffed-up nose (or even both at the same time).

What people often discard as allergy symptoms, though, could indicate a much more serious condition. Head and neck cancer typically includes the following symptoms: clogged nasal cavities, pain or discomfort when swallowing, ringing of the ears, swollen glands, frequent headaches and a raspy voice. Other symptoms like pain when speaking, white or red patches inside the mouth and bleeding are more distinguishable and should warrant a trip to a specialist or urgent care doctor.

Breast, lung, prostate and colorectal cancers account for almost half of all new cancer cases in the U.S. each year. Head and neck cancer is far down on the list, accounting for 4% of all new cancer diagnoses. However, that still amounts to nearly 70,000 people – about the same size as Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, diagnosed with head and neck cancer annually.

Head and neck cancer, which is separate from brain cancer, can form in the lips, tongue, gums, cheeks, throat, voice box, paranasal sinuses, nasal cavities and salivary glands. With breast or skin cancer, for instance, monthly self-exams can indicate potential concerns. With head and neck cancer, though, there are not always outward signs. That’s why many people write off symptoms as allergies or a lingering cold, especially at this time of year.

A range of risk factors can lead to head and neck cancer, including tobacco and alcohol use, infections caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), ancestry and exposure to radiation, asbestos, wood dust and other chemicals.

Otolaryngologists, also called ENTs (ear, nose and throat specialists), provide both surgical and nonsurgical treatments. There are five primary ways to treat head and neck cancer:


Radiation therapy


Targeted therapy


In many cases, physicians will recommend a combination of treatment options to produce the best results.

April is Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month, a brief period designed to spotlight a type of cancer that isn’t as well known. For any type of cancer, an early diagnosis and treatment offer the best chance at a full recovery.

There are three steps you can take right now to reduce your risk:

Stop smoking: Cigarettes and chewing tobacco are the top cause of squamous cell carcinomas of the mouth and voice box.

Schedule a dental checkup: Dentists often are the first line of defense and check the oral cavity during routine appointments.

Wear a face mask if you work in certain occupations: Exposure to wood dust is a leading cause of nasopharyngeal cancer. Individuals who work in the construction, metal or ceramic industries face an increased risk of cancer in the voice box because of the air they’re breathing.

Southwest Florida is a beautiful place because of its colorful flower blooms, green grass and lush tree foliage. Each of those outdoor treasures cause allergies, but if symptoms last more than a month or so, it might be time to consult an allergist or otolaryngologist. The survival rate for most types of head and neck cancers is exceedingly high, provided there is an early diagnosis and treatment.

– By Dr. Anthony J. Anfuso, a board-certified otolaryngologist and head and neck cancer surgeon with Precision Healthcare Specialists in Fort Myers.
This article was submitted by a Guest Author of the Above Board Chamber.