A thorough diagnosis is an important first step in treating sinusitis.
Affecting more than 30 million Americans annually, sinusitis is a term that describes tissue swelling (inflammation) affecting the lining within sinus cavities. The resulting irritation may cause blockages or contribute to the development of a serious sinus infection.
This is a short-term type of sinusitis that may produce symptoms for up to four weeks. It’s usually characterized by cold-like symptoms that may include congestion, a stuffy nose, and a pressure headache. Some people also notice discolored or cloud mucus, fever, dental pain, general fatigue, and a reduced sense of smell. It’s usually not necessary to perform image testing to identify acute sinusitis. If symptoms aren’t progressively getting worse, the source of the accompanying infection is likely viral.
Should symptoms associated with sinusitis last longer than a month or so, it’s considered chronic sinusitis. In addition to many of the same symptoms associated with the acute form of this condition, sufferers may also experience a decreased sense of smell and fatigue without a clear cause. The source is usually structural. In some cases, this means symptoms may be related to nasal polyps or a similar abnormality that’s preventing normal drainage. Chronic sinus disease is often linked to inflammation that affects nasal membranes and the sinus cavities. A related bacterial infection sometimes develops due to the obstruction caused by the swollen tissues.
If symptoms are lasting for more than 4-5 weeks, diagnosis often involves a CT scan to determine which sinus passages are affected. Image tests can also determine if there is an obstruction. An endoscopic nasal exam may also be done to get a better view of the affected area. The use of a lighted tube can also help identify scar tissue, polyps, and structural issues.
Many people resort to over-the-counter remedies without fully understanding the nature of their condition, which may result in attempts at relief that aren’t likely to be effective. If the condition is acute, treatment may involve saline sprays, over-the-counter decongestants, and intranasal steroids. Patients with chronic sinusitis are sometimes treated with a broad spectrum of antibiotics used for a longer period of time.
It’s just as important to base treatment on the specific cause of sinusitis, not just whether or not it’s acute or chronic. If, for example, the condition is associated with allergies, decongestants aren’t likely to be an effective primary treatment; and antibiotics won’t help with related infections that aren’t bacterial in nature. Patients may also benefit from treatment that involves:
- Short-term use of over-the-counter pain medications
- Prescription or OTC allergy medications
- Inhaled or oral steroids to reduce sinus membrane swelling
- Surgery to remove blockages in sinus passages or enlarge sinus cavities
When caused by the common cold, sinusitis is often a temporary inconvenience. If there are underlying causes, such as structural irregularities affecting drainage ducts, those issues will need to be addressed to restore normal sinus functions.
The condition is sometimes preventable by avoiding environmental irritants like smoke, taking precautions when around other individuals with a cold, keeping allergies under control, and including citrus fruits, leafy green veggies, and other foods that keep your immune system healthy in your diet.