July 31, 2019

What is Sinusitis? Learning About Sinus Infections

Sinusitis is the medical term for a sinus infection. Sinusitis results from inflammation of the sinus drainage pathways, causing a back-up of mucous and pressure.

Your sinuses are hollow cavities in the facial bones that drain into the nasal passage.  They significantly reduce the weight of the skull, making it easier on our neck muscles.  The lining of the sinuses has billions of cilia, small hair-like scrubber cells, that constantly clean the cavity.  This is done by pushing mucous to and through the drainage pathway into the nose.  When this pathway becomes narrowed or closed, the cleaning process can no longer function and bacteria begin to grow.  Sinusitis effects about 35 million Americans at least once a year.

Sinus infection (sinusitis) symptoms

Sinusitis shares a lot of symptoms with allergies or a cold, so it can be hard to determine what you’re suffering from. So exactly what are the signs that you could be suffering from sinusitis?

Here’s a list of the most common symptoms:

  • Facial pain or pressure
  • Stuffy nose
  • Coughing
  • Loss of smell
  • Thick, discolored nasal discharge
  • Postnasal drip

Accompanying symptoms during more severe cases include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Bad breath
  • Tooth ache
  • Headaches

How sinusitis happens

One of the leading causes of sinusitis is untreated allergies. The inflammation and swelling from allergies can easily plug up the sinus drainage pathways and start an infection. This is a big reason why we encourage our patients to treat their allergies early, so they aren’t suffering in the future.

Other causes of sinusitis are:

  • Common cold
  • Nasal polyps
  • Smoke/pollution
  • Deviated septum
  • Structural issues in the sinus drainage ducts

Often, a number of these factors combine to cause the sinus problem and successful treatment requires identifying all of them.

Acute vs chronic sinusitis

Most cases of sinusitis can be boiled down to two different types – acute and chronic. Acute sinusitis is what most people experience, and the symptoms typically last a week or two. Chronic sinusitis, on the other hand, lasts for months and is often always causing some symptoms.

Is it sinusitis or allergies

Allergy symptoms and sinus symptoms overlap a great deal, so it’s hard to tell which is the real issue sometimes.  Some rules of thumb are that allergies don’t normally cause discolored drainage and don’t usually cause pressure and pain.  Allergies usually have a waxing and waning pattern and tend to follow seasonal variations.

Preventing sinusitis

It’s more likely than not that you’ve suffered from sinusitis in your life time, so how can you prevent it from happening in the future?

Frequent saline rinses - One of the most underutilized “home remedies” is the nasal saline rinses, often seen with products like the Neti Pot, but there’s a plethora of different ways to do it that can be found at your local drug or grocery store.

Regular saline rinses keep your sinuses clear and clean out gunk that can blockage, sinusitis, and prolonged allergy symptoms. They’re quick and easy to use, and one of the most effective ways to fight sinusitis.

Hydration and humidity – Dry environments and dehydration can cause your nasal passage to dry out. Make sure your drinking plenty of water and, if you need to, get a humidifier by your bed to help with the moisture.

Take care of your allergies – Untreated allergies are probably the most common culprit in sinus infections. Controlling your allergies plays a huge part in staving off sinusitis. Even if you aren’t curatively treating your allergies through immunotherapy, simple things like keeping a clean house and changing clothes after being outside can go a long way.

Getting relief from sinusitis

Sometimes it’s too late to prevent a sinus infection from occurring. You could be reading this blog right now and be screaming at your screen asking for help, this is the section for you.

Inhaling steam – Take an extra long shower or swing by your local gym’s sauna. Taking a few minutes to breathe in steam can help bring some quick relief to your symptoms.

Saline rinses, again – We don’t need to explain more about the important of these. If you’re suffering from sinusitis, this is something you should be doing at least twice a day.

Decongestants– This will give you quick acting improvement in your congestion or stuffiness symptoms

Antibiotics– Like any other type of infection, antibiotics are a great way to fight back. Go to your local allergist or general practitioner for a prescription

Address your structural sinus issues – Many times sinusitis occurs because of a structural issue in your sinuses like narrow drainage pathways, deviated septum, and polyps. It may seem scary, but sinus procedures such as balloon sinuplasty now take as little as 15 minutes, with no pain, and can eliminate sinus problems in as many as 90% of situations.

Don’t needlessly suffer with facial pain and sinus headaches. Book your appointment today and we can get you taken care of!

About The Author:

Chris Thompson, MD