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What is Sinusitis

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Updated June 04, 2014

Sinuses

Sinuses

Photo © A.D.A.M.

What Causes Sinusitis

Sinusitis refers to any inflammation in the sinuses. The sinuses are cavities in the skull surrounding your eyes, nose, cheeks and forehead. The main sinuses are called the frontal, maxillary, sphenoid, and ethmoid sinuses. These hollow recesses create vocal resonance and reduce the weight of the skull.

Sinuses are mucous membranes, meaning they are lined with a thin layer of tissue which traps bacteria using mucous and tiny hairs called cilia. The cilia also serve to move the mucous (and bacteria) out of the sinuses and into a drainage canal. If this canal is not large enough, bacteria and other microorganisms can become trapped and result in a sinus infection or sinusitis.

Sinusitis is a actually a general term which literally means "inflammation of the sinuses." Sinusitis can be caused by an infection, allergies, or structural abnormalities in or around the sinuses. If left untreated, sinusitis can last from weeks to years.

How Can I Tell if I Have Sinusitis?

Acute sinusitis is almost always preceded by a respiratory infection. Allergies are a common cause of chronic sinusitis because the mucous lining inside the sinuses becomes inflamed. The swollen tissue can block or obstruct the drainage canals, leaving the mucous trapped inside the sinuses instead of draining into the back of the throat as it should and causes symptoms of sinusitis.

Symptoms of a Sinusitis

  • dull throbbing facial pain
  • post nasal drip
  • headache
  • earache
  • toothache
  • cough
  • congestion
  • facial swelling
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • colored nasal discharge

How is Sinusitis Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of a sinus infection or sinusitis is based on symptoms, physical exam signs and x-rays or a CT scan. Sometimes direct sinus visualization and or culture will be performed with a tiny fiber optic scope called an endoscope.

Treatment of acute sinusitis may involve antibiotics or other medications, such as steroids, to reduce the inflammation of sinusitis or decongestants. Treatment of chronic sinusitis is usually more complicated. Identifying and treating the underlying cause of sinusitis is crucial and you may need to undergo allergy testing. Occasionally surgery may be necessary to reduce obstructions and resolve chronic sinusitis.

Sources:

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Seniors and Asthma-What You Need to Know About Sinusitis. Accessed: December 2, 2008 from http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/allergies/sinusitis.aspx.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Tips to Remember: Sinusitis. Accessed December 2, 2008 from http://www.aaaai.org/patients/publicedmat/tips/sinusitis.stm.

 

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