Sinusitis is the infection of the air cavities within the nasal passages. Normally, healthy sinuses are filled with air. When there is an infection, the sinuses get filled with fluid, and germs can grow there, causing inflammation. Learn more about sinusitis, its causes, symptoms, and treatment.
Sinusitis is a very common condition that is caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses, or any other allergies. Sinusitis is defined as inflammation of the mucosal lining of the sinus passages. It can be acute or chronic. Frequent attacks of sinusitis for over three months, also known as chronic sinusitis, result in the thickening of the mucosal membranes and excess production of nasal and sinus secretions. These secretions are usually thick and sticky and frequently predispose the sinuses to bacterial infection.
A sinus is a hollow and air-filled space in the body. The lining of the sinuses produces a slimy secretion called the mucus. This mucus helps to keep the nasal passages moist, and it also traps germs and other particles. Sinusitis is caused when the mucus builds up and irritates the sinuses resulting in the inflammation of the sinus.
There are four different types of sinusitis. They are:
Sinusitis which lasts for a shorter duration is called acute sinusitis. It is commonly caused by a viral infection brought on by a common cold. The symptoms last for about one to two weeks. In case it is caused by a bacterial infection, then it can last for up to four weeks. Acute sinusitis is caused by seasonal allergies.
Subacute sinusitis is caused by a bacterial infection or seasonal allergies. The symptoms of subacute sinusitis last up to three months.
The symptoms of chronic sinusitis last for more than three months. Chronic sinusitis is commonly caused by bacterial infections. It can also occur due to nasal structural problems or persistent allergies. Chronic sinusitis is a very rare condition.
The condition is called recurrent sinusitis, when the symptoms of sinusitis occur several times a year.
A cold or flu.
Frequent exposure to allergens, such as dust, mites, mold, pollen, etc.
Exposure to extremes of air temperature.
Exposure to cigarette smoke.
Certain structural deformities in the upper respiratory tract, such as a deviated nasal septum, nasal polyps, hypertrophy of inferior turbinates (chronic sinusitis can itself cause hypertrophy of inferior turbinates), allergies. Nasal polyps and deviated nasal septum are by far the commonest causes of chronic rhinosinusitis.
The symptoms of sinusitis are:
Sinus pressure and pain.
Sinus and nasal congestion.
Itching and sneezing.
A frequent headache.
Difficulty in breathing.
A sore throat.
Halitosis (bad breathe).
A chronic cough.
Periorbital cellulitis or abscess.
Cavernous sinus infection.
Hence, it is important to ensure proper and adequate treatment of sinusitis, both acute and chronic.
Commonly, a doctor can identify sinusitis by the history of symptoms and clinical examination. To confirm the diagnosis, doctors may recommend a few other diagnostic tests like:
Examination of the sinuses.
Imaging tests like an X-ray of paranasal sinuses can clearly point out the presence and, in most cases, the underlying cause of sinusitis. Sometimes CT (computed tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may be recommended as CT, and MRI shows the details of the sinuses and the nasal area.
Examination of the Sinuses:
To view the sinuses, a thin and flexible tube with fiber-optic light is inserted through the nose. This examination helps to determine the deviated nasal septum.
An allergy test is performed to check if any allergies are triggering the symptoms of sinusitis.
Culture tests are generally not recommended in case of diagnosing sinusitis. It is rarely recommended to determine the causative factors like bacteria or fungi, or viruses. This culture test is done by collecting the samples from the nose.
The following measures are quite effective in treating the above-mentioned symptoms:
Menthol steam inhalation three times a day.
Nasal saline washes with a neti pot.
Use a humidifier at home.
Avoiding allergens such as dust, mites, mold, pollens, etc., by wearing masks or avoiding contact with mold spores or animal dander can significantly decrease the attacks of rhinosinusitis.
Drink warm water with honey, and lime to clear the mucus stuck in the throat from post-nasal drip.
Medications prescribed to manage sinusitis are the following:
Antihistamines for allergies.
Nasal decongestants (not longer than three days if used thrice daily, as they can cause rebound congestion).
Nasal steroid sprays like Budesonide, Fluticasone, Triamcinolone, Beclomethasone, and Mometasone to control the inflammatory process.
Antibiotics are required if there is fever and/or purulent nasal discharge.
Mast cell stabilizers may be used to control symptoms of allergies.
In severe cases, where the condition does not respond to the above treatment options then surgical procedures may also be considered.
Functional endoscopic sinus surgery.
Chemical sinus cautery.
Ways to prevent sinusitis are:
1) Try to avoid contact with people who have a cold or those people who are sick with other infections.
2) Wash your hands thoroughly after sneezing or coughing and before meals.
3) If you have allergies try to manage the symptoms and keep them in control.
4) Avoid smoking because tobacco smoke can irritate the lungs and the nasal passages.
5) You can use a humidifier if your home is very dry. By using a humidifier, moisture is added to the air, preventing sinusitis. Humidifiers also help to keep the home clean and make them free of molds.
Sinusitis is a treatable condition. Most people recover without any medical intervention. But seeing a doctor is necessary if there are recurrent episodes of sinusitis or when the condition is not responding to the provided treatment.
The quickest way to get rid of sinusitis are:
- Adequate rest.
- Drinking plenty of water or fluids.
- Consuming food with antibacterial properties.
- Using a neti pot.
- Usage of oils to moisten the cavity.
- Taking antibiotic medications.
The natural ways to clear sinuses are:
- Using a humidifier.
- Taking steam.
- Consuming warm fluids.
- Using warm facial compress.
An acute attack of sinusitis may last for about ten days. Even longer and recurrent bouts of infection may last up to one month. With treatment, the sinusitis can resolve within one week to ten days.
Fluids that can help during a sinus infection include:
- Warm water.
- Warm water with honey, lemon, and ginger.
- Teas that are infused with herbs.
- Soups and broths.
Some of the natural supplements for sinusitis include
- Enzymes such as bromelain and quercetin.
- Probiotics such as lactobacillus.
Yes, a sinus infection can spread to the eyes when left untreated. When it spreads to the eyes, it can cause disturbances in vision. In some cases, this can even lead to vision loss and blindness. Vision loss occurs when the infection spreads to the eye socket. However, this condition is very rare.
One can relieve sinus blockage by slightly massaging the frontal sinus region. This can be performed by placing an index and middle finger on the eyebrows and massaging in a circular direction. One can also move their fingers along the eyebrows towards the temple and repeat this movement.
The ways to sleep with sinusitis include:
- Taking medications such as antihistamines.
- Keeping the head in an elevated position.
- Keeping the nasal passages moist.
- Avoid things that may contain allergens, such as pollen and dust.
The symptoms of a sinus infection spreading to the brain may include the following:
- Visual disturbances.
- Loss of consciousness
Yes, a sinus infection can affect the ear as well. Sinus infection can increase the pressure in the ears. This is because the sinus cavity and the ears are closely connected. If the sinus infection is treated, it can automatically treat the ear infection.
Sinusitis can also present, like a chest infection. Sinusitis, if present with upper respiratory tract infection, can cause sinus issues. It may present as chest tightness and difficulty in breathing. Hence, sinusitis can mimic chest problems such as breathing difficulties and chest tightness.
When we lie down at night, the blood flow to the head increases. This causes more blood flow in the arteries of the head and neck. This increase in blood flow can worsen nasal congestion. Added to that, gravity also increases blood flow and congestion.
Yes, according to new research, sinusitis can cause heart problems. Chronic sinusitis can cause heart problems such as myocardial infarction. There is a proven link between chronic inflammatory diseases such as sinusitis and cardiovascular diseases.
Last reviewed at:
16 Dec 2022 - 5 min read
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