A sinus infection, also called 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.
Causes & Symptoms
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.
Individuals suffering from sinusitis experience a variety of cold-like symptoms such as nasal congestion and discharge, postnasal drip, sore throat, facial pressure and swelling, loss of smell and taste, headache, fever, fatigue and bad breath. Complications can include asthma attacks, meningitis, vision problems, aneurysms and stroke.
Diagnosis & Treatment
In addition to a physical examination and a review of your medical history, your doctor will inspect your nasal passages for polyps, abnormalities, inflammation and buildup of fluid. Additional tests utilizing nasal endoscopy, CT scans, MRIs and allergy tests can be used to help confirm the diagnosis.
Treatments will vary depending upon the severity of your sinus infection and whether it’s an acute or chronic condition. Saline nasal sprays and corticosteroids are useful for rinsing your nasal passages and relieving inflammation. Decongestants are a good short-term solution, but extended use can actually worsen the condition. Antibiotics are usually prescribed for bacterial infections.
Antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays, saline washes and oral steroids all provide long-term relief. More permanent solutions such as immunotherapy (allergy shots or drops) or surgery can bring relief to those suffering from chronic sinusitis.
Balloon sinuplasty is a fairly new, non-invasive option for sinus surgery that is usually performed on an outpatient basis. The patient is given general anesthesia, and a thin wire catheter with a balloon attached is inserted through the nostril. Once it reaches the blocked sinus cavity, the balloon is inflated to enlarge the sinus opening and widen the walls of the cavity. The balloon is then deflated and a saline solution is used to flush out debris. The majority of patients report open sinuses following the procedure as well as an improvement in the ability to breathe normally.