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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that over 31 million Americans have sinusitis, an infection of the four paired structures which surround the nasal cavity. This condition causes hundreds of thousands of days lost from school and work each year. American consumers spend millions of dollars on medications that promise relief from painful symptoms.
The frontal sinuses are located over the eyes in the brow areas; ethmoids are just behind the bridge of the nose and the sphenoid sinuses are in the upper region of the nose.
While the exact function of each sinus is not clear, they play roles in smelling, voice timbre, production of protective mucous, adjusting to pressure changes, and lightening of the skull weight. Sinusitis usually follows a viral upper respiratory infection and sometimes the symptoms parallel those of a cold or allergy: stuffed up nose, yellow or green nasal discharge, loss of smell, a cough and/or sore throat, foul breath and ear ache.
A headache upon awakening in the morning is characteristic of sinus involvement, as is pain when the forehead is touched. The classic symptom - postnasal drip - can lead to irritation of the throat or membranes lining the larynx or upper windpipe.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis, a deviated septum, nasal polyps and cigarette smoking can also trigger sinusitis. Any time the nasal membranes become inflamed and swollen, the stage is set for a secondary bacterial infection.
Sinusitis is not always easy to diagnose. One important clue to acute sinusitis is the failure of microscopic hair-like structures called cilia. When the system becomes impaired, oxygen content in the sinuses decreases, mucous accumulates, stagnates and then becomes infected by normally harmless bacteria or viruses found in the nose.
After the diagnosis is made, it is important to begin appropriate therapy at once. Treatment may include topical or systemic nasal decongestants to shrink the swollen membranes to allow drainage of the sinuses, antibiotics to control a bacterial infection, painkillers to relieve the discomfort, and increasing fluid intake to thin the sinus secretions.
A sinus infection cannot be cured by home remedies, although inhaling steam from a vaporizer and warm, wet compresses over the inflamed area may help lessen the discomfort. Limited use of nose drops or nose sprays may provide temporary relief but use for more than a few days should be avoided because even more congestion in the nose and sinuses can be a side effect of these drugs.
While it usually takes seven to ten days of antibiotic therapy to control common throat or ear infections, it will take a full two to three weeks of antibiotics for sinus infections. When the treatment is discontinued before completion, infections often recur. When no significant improvement seems to occur after a full course of antibiotic therapy, or if the infection is persistent and keeps returning, surgery may be needed.
Over the years, sinusitis has been underdiagnosed. It was commonly believed, for example, that small children were not subject to sinus infections. Today, however, sinusitis is causing concern because it appears to be a trigger of asthma in both children and adults.
While all sinus disorders cannot be prevented - any more than all colds or bacterial infections can be avoided - there are measures that can be taken to reduce the number and severity of attacks and possibly prevent the condition from becoming chronic. Getting adequate and appropriate amounts of rest, a balanced diet and plenty of exercise helps the body function efficiently and maintain a general resistance to infections.
Anyone experiencing persistent upper respiratory symptoms should be seen at our office for treatment before it worsens and complications develop.
The information provided in this Web site is not intended to replace consultation with your physician.
Entire contents © 2016 Ulrich O. Ringwald, M.D. Reproduction in whole or in part without
express written permission is prohibited.