Sinusitis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
What is sinusitis?
Sinusitis is a condition in which the sinuses become inflamed,
interfering with normal sinus drainage. Swelling in the nasal
passages creates blockage, and long-term sinus inflammation causes
infection. There are around 35 million Americans affected by sinusitis each
Symptoms of sinusitis
The following symptoms may indicate sinusitis or a sinus infection:
- Pain and tenderness in sinus areas: cheeks, forehead, between eyes
- Headaches, especially in the morning
- Runny nose or nasal congestion
- Aching upper jaw
- Feelings of exhaustion or weakness
- Sore throat
What are sinuses?
The sinuses are spaces of air in the bones behind the
face: small cavities found inside the cheek bones, behind
the bridge of the nose, and just over and behind the eyes. These
hollow cavities create mucus, which serves the purpose of removing
bacteria and particles from inhaled air. The sinuses open into the
nose and nasal passages, where the exchange of air and mucus takes
place. Sinuses are connected to the nasal passages through a
mucous membrane lining. When this mucous membrane lining becomes
inflamed, the sinuses cannot drain properly. Mucus
builds up, becoming a breeding ground for bacteria and causing a
Types of sinusitis
There are three kinds of sinusitis. These include acute sinusitis,
which generally lasts for around three weeks; chronic sinusitis,
which generally lasts for around three to eight weeks, but can
continue even longer; and recurrent sinusitis, which describes
several attacks of acute sinusitis per year. Acute sinusitis is
often mistaken for a cold, but it usually lasts longer than a cold
and produces a wider range of symptoms.
Causes of sinusitis
Sinusitis is initially caused by any type of swelling in the
sinuses. This is why people with allergies or asthma are more likely
to suffer from chronic sinusitis and sinus infections. A cold is
often a pre-cursor for sinusitis as well.
Sinusitis can also be caused by using too many decongestant nasal
sprays, which can cause a rebound effect leading to more nasal
congestion. Using tobacco and swimming are frequent causes of
swelling in the sinuses.
Treatment for sinusitis
For an acute sinusitis attack, there are several treatments
generally recommended by doctors. Decongestants can be taken to help
relieve congestion and nasal blockage. Sometimes antibiotics are
prescribed to help control the bacterial infection.
Over-the-counter-pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, are helpful
for relieving the fever, aches and pains generally associated
with a sinus infection. Using a nasal saline wash can sooth sinuses
and relieve swelling.
Using nasal decongestants for more than a few days is not
recommended, as they can cause sinuses to be more swollen once the
decongestant is discontinued. If you are suffering from sinusitis or
a sinus infection, you should consult your doctor concerning the use
of cold medicines or decongestants.
While sick, you can sooth your symptoms and improve your body's
defenses by getting plenty of rest, drinking hot liquids, consuming
lots of fluids, and applying moist heat by holding a warm, wet towel
to your face. Running a
humidifier can help relieve symptoms as well,
by providing a source of warm, soothing moisture in the air.
Chronic sinusitis is usually treated with a combination of
antibiotics and steroid nasal sprays. However, sometimes chronic
sinusitis can persist for an extended period of time, even with
In some cases, doctors will recommend sinus surgery to patients
who have not responded to other types of treatment. The surgery,
called "functional endoscopic sinus surgery," can be performed in
several sinus areas, including under the upper lip, inside the nose,
or behind the eyebrows. In some cases it can be very helpful;
however, it is only used as a last resort, when other medical
treatments have proved unsuccessful. It does not cure most forms of
You can help prevent sinus attacks by avoiding colds and allergy
symptoms, so it's a good idea to
remove as many pollutants,
irritants, and allergens from your environment as possible.
Controlling allergies, and fighting colds with healthy habits, are
important steps to take. But of course, not all colds and allergy
attacks can be prevented. During an allergy attack or cold, you
should use a short-term oral or nasal decongestant. Blow your nose
gently to keep from damaging sinuses and keep nasal passages clear.
Drink lots of fluids, which will help strength your body's immune
defenses as well as keeping nasal discharge thin. Rinse nasal
passages with a saline solution to reduce swelling and improve
drainage. The important thing in preventing sinusitis is to
nasal passages clear, as mucus build-up is what
generally creates the conditions for a sinus infection.
For more information, see our article on
Nasal Irrigation and Sinus Flush Solutions or see our entire