(Sinus Infection; Acute Sinusitis; Chronic Sinusitis)
Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinus cavities. It is usually associated with infection. The sinus cavities are air-filled spaces in the skull.
Acute sinusitis lasts for less than three weeks. Chronic sinusitis is diagnosed when symptoms last for at least three months. You may have recurrent sinusitis if you have repeated bouts of acute sinusitis.
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Infectious sinusitis is caused by bacterial or fungal infection of the sinus cavities. The most common organisms to cause acute sinusitis include:
These factors increase your chance of developing sinusitis. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:
- Recent viral infection
or exposure to second-hand smoke
- Other sources of indoor or outdoor air pollution
Abnormalities of the facial bones, sinuses, or nasal passages, such as:
Certain chronic illnesses, including:
and other disorders of the immune system
or a medical condition requiring a tube to be inserted into the nose
- Cocaine and other drugs inhaled through the nose
Symptoms of sinusitis may include:
- Facial pain or pressure that increases when you bend over or press on the area
- Nasal congestion not responding well to either decongestants or antihistamines
- Runny nose or postnasal drip
- Thick, yellow, or green mucus
- Bad breath
Cough, often worse at night
- Ear pain, pressure, or fullness
- Dental pain
- Facial congestion or fullness
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 are illuminated
or Xray of the sinuses to look for fluid in the sinus
- Removing sinus fluid through a needle for testing (rare)
- Endoscopic examination of the sinuses—threading a tiny, lighted tube into the nasal cavities to view the sinus opening
You have may acute sinusitis when the following occurs:
- History of 10 or more days of colored mucus
- Tenderness over the sinuses
- Visible infected mucus in the nose
- Difficulty smelling
- Hydrating—Drinking lots of fluids
may keep your nasal secretions thin. This will avoid plugging up your nasal passages and sinuses. Salt water nose 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Antihistamines—Allergy medicines called antihistamines may help sinusitis symptoms if they are caused by allergies. However, they may also dry out the nose.
- Guaifenesin—This medicine can help you cough up secretions, but hydration is more effective.
- Antibiotics—Your doctor may decide to give you antibiotics if the infection seems to be caused by bacteria.
Although, studies have shown that antibiotics are not effective in treating acute sinusitis.
Over-the-counter medicine—You can use
, or aspirin to treat sinus pain.
Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or
recent viral infection. This is because of the risk of
. Ask your doctor which other medicines are safe for your child.
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)
If you are diagnosed with sinusitis, follow your doctor's
If you have a tendency to get sinusitis following a
or allergy attack, try these preventive measures:
- 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, consider using cortisone nasal spray or antihistamines to decrease inflammation.
- If you get a cold, drink lots of fluids and use a decongestant (either pills or nasal spray).
- Sinus washes.
- Blow your nose gently, while pressing one nostril closed.
- Try not to fly in an airplane when you are congested. If you must fly, 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 High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters for your furnace and vacuum cleaner to remove allergens from the air.
- Avoid cigarette smoke.
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Allergy Asthma Information Association
Calgary Allergy Network
Fact sheet: allergic rhinitis, sinusitis, and rhinosinusitis.
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. Accessed June 22, 2008.
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Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases
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Medical Center of McKinney. So long, sinusitis. Medical Center of McKinney website. Available at:
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Medications for sinusitis. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at:
. Updated September 2009. Accessed December 11, 2009.
Okuyemi KS, Tsue TT. Radiologic imaging in the management of sinusitis.
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Scheid DC, Hamm RM. Acute bacterial rhinosinusitis in adults.
Am Fam Physician
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Sinusitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
Accessed November 10, 2007.
Stewart AE, Vaughan WC. Balloon sinuplasty versus surgical management of chronic rhinosinusitis.
Curr Allergy Asthma Rep
1/10/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Williamson IG, Rumsby K, Benge S, et al. Antibiotics and topical nasal steroid for treatment of acute maxillary sinusitis: a randomized controlled trial.
DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Zalmanovici A, Yaphe J. Intranasal steroids for acute sinusitis.
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