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What is Sinus Disease?

Sinus disease refers to disorders or infections that affect open spaces or cavities in your skull, around your nose.  Inflammation of the sinuses, called sinusitis, is common and affects roughly 28.5 million adults in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Sinusitis can be either acute or chronic.  Acute sinusitis refers to temporary infections that get better on their own or with treatment, while chronic sinusitis refers to infections that either keep recurring or last for at least 8 weeks.

What causes Sinus Disease?

When sinusitis occurs, the sinuses and the tubes that connect them to the inside of the nose swell.  This does not allow mucus to drain from them.  Infection can set in.  This can lead to pain and other symptoms.

Acute sinusitis can be caused by viruses, bacteria and rarely, fungi.  In most cases, acute sinusitis is caused by the common cold virus.  Factors that make it easier to get acute sinusitis include a deviated septum, nasal polyps, nasal allergy and even tooth infections, although this is rare.

Chronic sinusitis is associated with several potential factors including allergies, respiratory tract infection, nasal polyps, facial injuries, a deviated septum, and underlying medical conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux or immune deficiency, in rare cases.

What are the Symptoms of Sinus Disease?

The symptoms of acute and chronic sinusitis are similar, but acute sinusitis typically only lasts for a short time.  Common symptoms that you might experience include the following:

  • Discharge that is yellowish or greenish in color
  • Nasal congestion that makes it difficult to breathe through your nose
  • Soreness and pressure in your forehead or around your nose and eyes
  • Trouble smelling or tasting

In addition, you might have pain in your ears or upper teeth, a sore throat, fatigue or a cough that gets worse at night.  With acute sinusitis you might also have a fever, although this usually doesn’t occur with chronic sinusitis.  Many of these symptoms also occur with the common cold.  With a cold, symptoms are gone or are much improved after 7‑10 days, while in sinusitis they are not.

How is Sinus Disease Diagnosed?

When you have symptoms of sinusitis a certified doctor at the Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center will check your nose and throat during a physical exam.  The doctor will also check for nasal polyps to determine if these may be contributing to the cause of sinusitis.  If the doctor needs to conduct more tests, these might include nasal endoscopy that involves placing a thin, lighted tube in your nose and/or a sinus CT scan for a more detailed look at your sinuses.

How is Sinus Disease Treated?

Treatment for acute sinusitis depends on the cause.  Viral sinusitis might respond to saline nasal spray, over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestants or nasal corticosteroids to relieve inflammation.  Bacterial and fungal infections often require antibiotics or anti-fungal medications respectively.

For chronic sinusitis, the same treatment methods used for viral sinusitis might provide relief.  These include saline nasal irrigation, decongestants and pain relievers or nasal corticosteroids.  Other types of treatment include oral or injected corticosteroids to ease inflammation if your sinusitis is severe, immunotherapy if allergies are a factor in sinusitis or surgery to remove nasal polyps or to improve the sinus drainage pathways.

Contact Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center to schedule an appointment or for more information.