What Is Sinusitis Exactly?
Pain in the forehead or between the eyes? Upper teeth ache? Face feeling full, nose stuffy and congested? You may have a common complaint that sends many people to a doctor’s office: sinus trouble.
Sinuses are air spaces in your skull lined with mucous membranes. Most people have four sets of nasal sinuses:
Sinuses are like fingerprints; everybody’s are different. Some people have no frontal sinuses or just one.
Sinusitis usually starts with inflammation triggered by a cold, allergy attack, or irritant. But it may not end there. Colds, allergies, and irritants make sinus tissues swell.
Sinusitis causes many symptoms. Most people have a stuffy nose and pain or pressure in several locations around the face or teeth. There’s usually a nasal discharge that may be yellow, green, or clear. Other symptoms may include fatigue, decreased sense of smell and/or taste, cough, sore throat, bad breath, headache, pain on bending forward, and fever.
Sinusitis (Sinus Infection): Signs and Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
When sinuses remain inflamed, sinus membranes may thicken and swell. The swelling can be significant enough to cause grape-like masses called polyps (shown here). Polyps may protrude from the sinus into the nasal passage and partially or completely block the nasal airway.
The common cold is a viral infection. Colds can lead to sinusitis symptoms, but these usually clear by themselves. Antibiotics do not treat viruses, so they won’t help the sinus symptoms of a cold. Cold symptoms end inseven to 14 days. Usually, cold-related sinusitis goes away then, too.
Yellow or green mucus can mean a bacterial infection. Even then, acute bacterial sinusitis usually clears up in seven to 14 days — without antibiotic treatment. But if youkeep feeling worse and symptoms are persistent and severe, or if you get a fever, it’s time to see a doctor.
Only a layer of bone separates your sinuses from your brain. If a sinus infection passes through the bone, it can infect the lining of the brain — meningitis — or even the brain itself. Both problems are life threatening. A sinus infection can also spread into the orbit of the eye, causing an infection around the eye and possibly blindness. Less severe complications include asthma attacks and loss of smell or taste.
Chronic sinusitis is very difficult to treat. A first step is controlling predisposing factors such as eliminating environmental irritants. For symptom relief, doctors often prescribe nasal steroid sprays or antibiotics, but neither is proven to work in comprehensive studies. Surgery — functional endoscopic sinus surgery or FESS — offers at least moderate relief — but this is not intended as first-line treatment for chronic sinusitis.