Sinusitis: A word synonymous with pain!

February 19, 2016

If anyone has ever had infected sinuses, they probably will never forget the pain and discomfort. About 37 million Americans suffer from at least one episode of sinusitis each year, and it occurs when the cavities around your nose become swollen and inflamed.

A sinus infection (sinusitis) is an inflammation of the membranes lining the para-nasal sinuses – small air-filled spaces located within the skull or bones of the head surrounding the nose. Normally, sinuses are filled with air, but when sinuses become blocked and filled with fluid, germs (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) can grow and cause an infection.

Whether acute or chronic, sinus infections frequently develop after a cold or during times of severe or ongoing allergic rhinitis or inflammation.


Some of the primary symptoms of acute sinusitis include:

  • Facial pain/pressure
  • Nasal stuffiness
  • Nasal discharge
  • Loss of smell
  • Cough/congestion
  • Headache

Additional symptoms may include:

Who is susceptible to sinusitis?

Almost everyone can suffer from a sinus infection, but certain groups of people are more likely to develop sinusitis:

  1. People with allergiesAllergies can cause swelling in the nasal membranes which can block the sinus openings and obstruct the mucous drainage. This creates a perfect storm for infection.
  1. People with deformities of the nose such as a crooked nose or a deviated septum (the structure between the nostrils that divides the inside of the nose into right and left sides).
  2. People who are frequently exposed to infection such as school teachers and health workers.
  3. People who smoke: Tobacco smoke, nicotine, and other pollutants impair the natural resistance to infection.


Rarely, fungus or bacteria may cause a sinus infection. Allergies, nasal polyps, a tooth infection, and a deviated septum are other ways in which sinusitis may be triggered.

To diagnose sinusitis, the doctor will review the patient’s symptoms and perform a physical examination. The exam may include the doctor feeling and pressing on the sinuses for tenderness as well as examining the throat, ears and checking for swollen lymph nodes. The physician may also tap the teeth to see if there is an inflamed paranasal sinus.If the symptoms and physical findings are typical of sinusitis, further testing is usually not needed.

Chronic vs Acute

Sinusitis is considered acute if it lasts for a short period of time. The acute infection is usually part of a cold or allergies. However, many symptoms of a sinus infection are common to both the acute and the chronic forms. The best way to know for sure if you have an infection, to find the cause, and to get treatment, is to see a doctor.

If your sinus infection lasts for more than eight weeks, or continues to reoccur, you have a chronic infection and the physician may refer the patient to an ENT to provide a more specialized examination.  Typically treatment for chronic sinusitis is a very strong course of antibiotics that should clear up the infection.


If you have a simple sinus infection, the health care provider may recommend treatment with decongestants like Sudafed and steam inhalations alone. Use of nonprescription decongestant nasal drops or sprays may also be effective in controlling symptoms. However, these medicines should not be used beyond their recommended use, usually four to five days, or they may actually increase congestion. If antibiotics are given, they are usually given for 10 to 14 days. With treatment, the symptoms usually disappear and antibiotics are no longer required.


Up to 70% of patients with sinusitis can recover without any prescribed medications. If the physician diagnoses the condition as a bacterial infection, treatment with antibiotics can shorten the duration of acute sinusitis and can also reduce the severity of symptoms.

Other steps can be taken to aid in recovery:

  • Decongestants or nasal sprays might help relieve symptoms and promote drainage of the infection
  • Many find relief by using a sinus saline recipe
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Keep your body hydrated by drinking several glasses of water each day
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) may be beneficial.
  • Some find relief by breathing hot, moist air, using hot packs or washing the nasal cavities with a neti pot rinse
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