What is Sinusitis?

Sinuses are small air pockets that can be found behind your eyes, nose, cheekbones, and forehead. They produce mucus and are a part of your body's natural defenses against germs and other allergens. Your sinuses are usually filled with air. However, if fluid obstructs them, germs may develop and lead to an infection.

Sinusitis is when the tissue lining the sinuses becomes becomes inflamed or swollen as a result of the infection. Approximately 30 to 35 million people in the United States develop sinus infections or sinusitis every year.

Causes of Sinusitis

Sinusitis usually occurs after your sinuses become blocked and an infection takes root. The most common causes of your sinuses becoming blocked include the following:

  • A common cold or allergy may trigger your sinuses to create additional mucus leading to a blockage.
  • Medical condition that prevents the small hairs (cilia) in your sinuses from properly remove mucus.
  • An abnormality of the nose, sinuses, or nasal passages such as a deviated septum or nasal bone spur, or small growth in the lining of the nose called nasal polyps.
  • Allergic rhinitis.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Sinusitis

There are different types of sinusitis with varying symptoms and time spans. Acute sinusitis has a short duration compared to the other types of sinusitis as it lasts about one to two weeks if a viral infection is present. In the event of a bacterial infection, it may remain for up to four weeks.

Subacute sinusitis can last three months and is usually a result of seasonal allergies or a bacterial infection within the sinuses. While chronic sinusitis can last for more than three months, its symptoms are often less severe. They are usually the result of persistent allergies or abnormalities of the nasal and sinus passages.

Symptoms of sinusitis are normally similar to the common cold and can include the following:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Foul smelling breath
  • Fatigue
  • Pain or feeling of pressure behind the eyes, cheeks, nose, and forehead
  • Stuffy or runny nose

During diagnosis, your ENT specialist will examine your nose for evidence of polyps or signs of inflammation. They can also use an endoscopy or fiberoptic scope to view your sinuses. Imaging tests such as a CT scan or MRI may be performed as well.

Treatments for Sinusitis

Home remedies and over-the-counter options for sinusitis can include the following:

  • Breath through a wet warm washcloth to try to clear the sinus blockage
  • Use saline nasal spray
  • Use a humidifier
  • Drink additional fluids

If your symptoms are severe or if they do not improve within a few weeks, you should visit your ENT specialist. Treatment may involve prescribed medications or antibiotics. In rare cases, sinusitis may also require surgery to clear the sinuses, address a deviated septum, or remove polyps causing the blockages.


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