Sinusitis is inflammation and swelling of the tissues that line the sinuses. This interferes with normal mucus drainage, leading to breathing difficulties, pain and pressure. When the condition persists for 12 weeks or longer, it is considered chronic.
What Causes Sinusitis?
Sinusitis is the number one reported chronic condition in the United States, affecting an estimated 37 million Americans. It’s most often caused by an infection brought on by a cold or allergies, but may also be the result of nasal polyps, a deviated septum, trauma to the face, hay fever, complications from immune system disorders or tumors.
What Are the Symptoms of Sinusitis?
Individuals suffering from sinusitis experience a variety of cold-like symptoms such as:
- Nasal congestion and discharge
- Postnasal drip and sore throat
- Facial pressure and swelling
- Facial pain
- Pain in the upper teeth
- Loss of smell and taste
- Ear Pressure
- Bad breath
Complications of Sinusitis
Sinusitis can sometimes cause additional serious medical problems by spreading to other nearby areas like the brain and the eyes. Specifically sinusitis can lead to meningitis or infections in the eye including orbital cellulitis (infection in the eye socket), orbital abscess (accumulation of pus in the eye socket) or even double vision or blindness. Sinusitis can also spread deep into the neck to cause airway compromise. In addition sinusitis can worsen asthma and make it difficult to get asthma under control.
How Is Sinusitis Diagnosed?
In addition to a physical examination and a review of your medical history, your ENT doctor will use an endoscope to inspect your nasal passages for polyps and other abnormalities and check for inflammation and a buildup of fluid. Additional tests may include CT scans and allergy tests. Occasionally MRI’s are used.
How Is Sinusitis Treated?
Treatments will vary depending upon the severity of your sinusitis and whether it’s an acute or chronic condition. Often, by the time you have been referred to an ENT doctor, you have already tried some of these strategies. Saline nasal sprays and corticosteroids are useful for rinsing your nasal passages and relieving inflammation. In some cases medications that fight allergies like antihistamines, mast-cell stabilizers or anti-leukotrienes may help. Decongestants are a good short-term solution, but extended use can actually worsen the condition. Antibiotics are usually prescribed for bacterial infections.
More permanent solutions such as immunotherapy (allergy shots) or surgery can bring relief to those suffering from sinusitis that won’t respond to other treatments.