Sinusitis

Definition

Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinus cavities. It is usually associated with infection. The sinus cavities are air-filled spaces in the skull.

Sinusitis is called acute if it lasts for less than 4 weeks, subacute if it lasts 4-12 weeks, and chronic if symptoms last for more than 3 months. You may have recurrent sinusitis if you have repeated bouts of acute sinusitis.

Sinus Infection
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Causes

Infectious sinusitis is caused by bacterial, viral, or rarely fungal infection of fluid in the sinus cavities.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of sinusitis include:

Symptoms

Sinusitis may cause:

  • Facial congestion or fullness
  • Facial pain or pressure that increases when you bend over or press on the area
  • Headache
  • Cough, which is often worse at night
  • Nasal congestion not responding well to either decongestants or antihistamines
  • Runny nose or postnasal drip
  • Thick, yellow, or green mucus
  • Bad breath
  • Ear pain, pressure, or fullness
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Dental pain

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Sinusitis is diagnosed based on its symptoms and tenderness of the sinuses when pressed.

Tests may include:

  • Holding a flashlight up to the sinuses to see if they light up
  • CT scan or x-ray of the sinuses to look for fluid in the sinus
  • Endoscopic examination of the sinuses—threading a tiny, lighted tube into the nasal cavities to view the sinus opening
  • Removing sinus fluid through a needle for testing (rare)

You have may acute sinusitis when the following occurs:

  • History of 10 or more days of colored mucous, or visibly infected mucus
  • Tenderness over the sinuses
  • Fever
  • Difficulty smelling

Treatment

Home Care

  • Hydrating—Drinking lots of fluids may keep your nasal secretions thin. This will avoid plugging up your nasal passages and sinuses. Saline nasal sprays or irrigation may also loosen nasal secretions.
  • Using steam treatments—Keep a humidifier running in your bedroom. Fill a bowl with steaming water every couple of hours. Make a steam tent with a towel over your head. This will let you breathe in the steam.
  • Nasal and sinus washes.

Medications

  • Antibiotics—Used to treat bacterial infections.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers.
    • Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
  • Antihistamines—Help sinusitis symptoms if they are caused by allergies.
  • Intranasal corticosteroids—These are inhaled directly into your nose through a nasal spray. Corticosteroids may help relieve congestion by decreasing swelling in the lining of the nose in people with allergies.
  • Decongestants—Use either decongestant pills or nasal sprays to shrink nasal passages. Do not use nasal sprays for longer than 3-4 days in a row.
  • Guaifenesin—Helps you cough up secretions, but hydration is more effective.

Surgery

Surgery is a last resort for people with very troublesome, serious chronic sinusitis. It includes:

  • Repair of a deviated septum
  • Removal of nasal polyps
  • Functional endoscopic sinus surgery—a lighted scope is used to enlarge the sinuses to improve drainage
  • Balloon sinuplasty—a tube with a balloon attached is inserted into the sinuses (the balloon is inflated to open the sinus passages)

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of sinusitis:

  • Have allergy testing to find out what things you are allergic to and to learn how to treat your allergies.
  • Avoid substances you know you are allergic to.
  • If you have allergies, stick with your treatment plan.
  • If you get a cold, drink lots of fluids and use a decongestant.
  • Use sinus washes as directed.
  • Blow your nose gently, while pressing one nostril closed.
  • If you must travel by air, use a nasal spray decongestant to decrease inflammation prior to takeoff and landing.
  • Use a humidifier when you have a cold, allergic symptoms, or sinusitis.
  • Use HEPA filters for your furnace and vacuum cleaner to remove allergens from the air.
  • Avoid cigarette smoke.

Revisions

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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