The sufferers are many and vocal.
Sinus headaches, sinus trouble, sinus medicine. Year-round, people
complain of stuffy noses, congestion, and drainage, all of which they attribute
to troublesome sinuses. But, sinusitis is more than just a stuffy
nose. It's unlikely to go away by itself. Confusing matters further
are the numerous methods of treatment, from simple over-the-counter medications
to endoscopic sinus surgery.
In a normal person, the nose and sinuses produce large amounts of secretions
daily (between a pint and a quart of mucus). This passes into and through
the nose, washing the membranes and picking up dust particles and air
pollutants. Then, the mucus flow back into the throat, where it's
swallowed. In the stomach, acids destroy the dangerous bacteria.
But, when nasal passages secrete more than normal, due to allergies, smoke,
viral infections, or air pollution, you may begin to notice "postnasal
drip." Though usually clear and watery, it can become thick and sticky
mucus due to too-dry air. Bacterial infections can also produce a thick,
sticky mucus with pus in it (usually yellow or green in color).
Sinusitis refers to infection or inflammation of the sinuses. Often, it
starts with a cold or flu, which causes swelling of the nasal membranes and
increased mucus. The membranes become so swollen that sinus openings
become blocked. Abnormal pressure and/or builds up, resulting in a
pressure pain in the forehead or face, between the eyes, or in the cheeks and
Causes of sinusitis include viral infection, allergy, anatomic defects, and
air pollution. Sinus infection comes in two types: acute (severe) and
chronic (ongoing) sinusitis. If a cold gets worse, acute sinusitis may
develop, and acute sinusitis can lead to chronic sinusitis.
It's important to know that sinusitis is more than just a stuffy nose and
thus, won't go away by itself, in most cases. Many patients don't realize
that it's not simply the remnants of a recent cold or hay fever bout. As a
result, they may fail to seek medical attention until they are very sick,
usually a week or two after the initial cold or allergy attack seals off the
sinus cavities. You may have a fever, cough, and large quantities of
People with chronic sinus infections may complain of having a continuous
cold. Symptoms are nasal congestion, facial pressure, bad breath, chronic
sore throat, cough, and decreased or no sense of smell.
A third of cases include sinus pain - a throbbing that gets worse when you
bend over. Pressure in the maxillary sinuses in the cheeks may masquerade
as a toothache. Normal flow of mucus - postnasal drip - can spread the
infection to the bronchi and lungs and may trigger asthma attacks, promote
bronchitis, chronic cough, or pneumonia.
A blocked sinus cavity filled with mucus is a good place for bacteria to
grow. And if a cold lasts more than a week, or when mucus turns
yellow/green, bad-tasting, or foul-smelling, this may well be the case.
Fortunately, most cases of sinusitis respond quickly to treatment.
However it's important to see your otolaryngologist; an infection in the sinus
is close to the eye and the brain. If allowed to spread, it could affect
your vision or even your life.
Treatment varies. Infections may require antibiotics, surgery, or
both. Acute sinusitis usually responds well to medication.
And what if surgery is necessary? Technological advances in endoscopic
procedures allow doctors to diagnose and treat sinus disorders readily and
effectively. Thanks to new and improved instrumentation, your doctor can
perform sinus surgery in a way that's simpler, more exact, and requires less
recovery time. He will place a lighted telescope inside your nose to
magnify the area, which means greater precision.
Source: American Academy of
Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery
© 2004 AAO-HNS/AAO-HNSF
Please read our disclaimer. Any information provided on this Web site should not be considered medical advice or a substitute for a consultation with Dr. Hector N. Hernandez or other healthcare professional. If you have a medical problem, contact us for diagnosis and treatment.