Sinusitis is the inflammation of the mucous membrane that lines the air cavities within the sinuses.
This is often referred to as a sinus infection, or rhinosinusitis, and it is extremely common, especially in areas that experience high rates of air pollution. As the mucous membranes become inflamed and obstructed, the sinus cavities fill with fluid. These pockets of fluid create an ideal environment for various bacteria which increases the chance of infection.
If infection does occur or the immune system has to respond to an abundance of foreign bodies in this region, the area will again become inflamed and the cycle will likely repeat.
There are two types of sinusitis: acute sinusitis and chronic sinusitis. Sinusitis is typically considered to be acute if it only lasts a few days or up to a few weeks. However, if the sinusitis symptoms persist for more than twelve weeks, it is typically considered chronic sinusitis. Some people don't have chronic sinusitis, but for various reasons may experience acute sinusitis with an abnormal frequency. If an individual is diagnosed with acute sinusitis more than four times in a single year, they will likely be deemed to have recurring acute sinusitis.
What Causes Sinusitis?
It isn't always possible to determine the exact cause of a case of sinusitis, but there seems to be both environmental and biological components. Individuals who have a deviated septum are more prone to sinusitis because their nasal passages are more narrow. People who have certain genetic variations, such as cystic fibrosis and immune system deficiencies, are more susceptible to sinus infection. Additionally, as many as one third of all people with asthma will also have sinusitis. On the other hand, environmental risks include high pollution rates and exposure to allergens such as dander, pollen, dust mites, and mold. In general, sinusitis rates have been rising with increased urbanization and antibiotic resistance.
What Are The Symptoms Of Sinusitis?
The primary complaint when sinusitis is present is congestion. As the mucous membranes become inflamed, they block a large portion of the air flow through the nasal passages. This can make it difficult to breathe or sleep. Another one of the primary symptoms associated with sinusitis is pressure. Since there is mucous membrane inflammation and fluid build up, people will likely feel like there is pressure on the sinus cavities around their nose. This pressure can also lead to headaches. As the body attempts to relieve the pressure and eliminate any infection, it will push the mucous out, resulting in nasal discharge. Patients may also report experiencing a fever, cough as a result of drainage, earaches, and a decreased sense of smell.
Is Sinusitis Treatable?
Sinusitis is very treatable with the proper medication. Over-the-counter options can include decongestants, mucolytics, and acetaminophen. Treatment approaches include:
Saline Nasal Spray & Irrigation: These sprays help to clear congestion by cleaning out the nasal passages. They can typically be used multiple times per day, however, some people may experience irritation with excessive use.
Saline nasal irrigation involves using a saline solution to loosen thick mucus and flush out the sinuses. It is important to never use regular tap water for this since it is not properly treated or filtered. Tap water poses the risk of containing microorganisms that may result in serious nasal passage infections. The doctor can suggest the best tool to use for nasal irrigation, and it is a good idea to have the doctor demonstrate first to ensure the irrigation is properly done.
Intranasal Steroid Spray: This spray is often one of the first recommended for longstanding nasal symptoms, and it is available both over-the-counter and by prescription. By spraying an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid directly into the nasal passages daily, symptoms can be relieved. These sprays can cause nosebleed, sore throat, or nasal irritation, so it’s important to use as directed.
Decongestant Medications: These medicines are used to alleviate pressure and pain in the sinuses and are only meant for short-term use unless otherwise directed by a doctor. There are over-the-counter options and prescription variations, depending on the severity of the patient’s symptoms. In some cases, doctors might also suggest an over-the-counter pain reliever to further reduce any discomfort the patient might be experiencing.
To alleviate the swelling that may occur with sinusitis, doctors might recommend using a decongestant nasal spray. In most cases, it is suggested that patients not use these sprays for longer than three days. Prolonged usage may result in sinus swelling coming back and worsening once the patient stops using the spray.
Allergy Medications: In some cases, allergies are a significant contributor to sinusitis. In this instance, taking allergy medications may help with the patient’s current symptoms and help to reduce the risk of recurrent sinusitis associated with allergies. The exact medication depends on what the patient’s allergies are and their medical history. If an allergy medicine is recommended over the long-term, it may differ from the one the doctor suggests while the patient has active sinusitis. These medications should be taken exactly as prescribed.
Antibiotics: In cases where bacteria is suspected to be present, antibiotics might be prescribed. On average, these are taken for approximately 10 to 14 days. It is imperative that patients take the full course. If symptoms are especially severe, steroid medications may be prescribed along with antibiotics. These should also be taken for the full course.
Those who suspect sinusitis should contact their doctor. A number of factors might contribute to this condition, such as allergies, the common cold, and air pressure or temperature changes. Knowing the underlying cause and finding an effective treatment regimen can help patients to feel better sooner.