Sinusitis is one of the most common health problems in the United States, afflicting 31 million people and causing millions of lost days from work and school each year.

Sinusitis occurs when tissues lining the sinus cavities become infected, usually as a result of nasal swelling that obstructs the opening of the sinus into the nose. Mucus then gets trapped in the sinuses, where it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. Colds, allergies, a deviated nasal septum, enlarged adenoids, cigarette smoking, and even irritation caused by frequent swimming or diving can produce nasal swelling and obstruction.

Is It a Cold or a Sinus Infection?

If a “cold” lasts longer than 10 days, sinusitis may be the problem. Sinusitis symptoms include headache; teeth pain; nasal congestion; thick, colored mucus; sinus tenderness and discomfort, especially on bending over; decreased or absent sense of smell or taste; pain when chewing; and bad breath. Children with sinus infections may experience other symptoms, including a sore throat and persistent cough that may get worse at night.

Sinusitis may also trigger asthma. If you’ve been experiencing asthma along with nasal congestion, a runny nose, postnasal drip and a cough, you may have sinusitis. Treating the sinus infection could clear up or improve your asthma.

Chronic Sinusitis

A sinus infection that lasts longer than three months is considered “chronic sinusitis.” Symptoms of this condition include nasal stuffiness, postnasal drip, facial pain, headache, and a runny nose. Often, people with chronic sinusitis complain of fatigue, lack of concentration, poor productivity, and general malaise.

If you suspect you have sinusitis, you should call your doctor for an appointment. Expect the doctor to look up your nose and in your throat. He may remove some mucus to examine under a microscope.

Treating Sinusitis

Most sinus infections clear up readily with a 10 to 14 day course of antibiotics. Chronic sinusitis, however, may require up to 28 days of antibiotics. Prompt treatment for a sinus infection is important. If ignored, sinusitis can become a serious, debilitating disease.

In addition to antibiotics, your doctor may prescribe a decongestant, a mucus-thinning agent or a steroid nose spray. These can help reduce tissue swelling, promote mucus drainage, and help maintain a normal sinus opening. If nasal polyps are obstructing your sinus opening, you may be given oral steroids to help shrink them.

If you have a history of allergies, and if you’re sneezing and producing large quantities of thin, watery nasal drainage, you may also get a prescription for an antihistamine. Otherwise, avoid antihistamines during bouts of sinusitis, because these drugs can cause excessive drying of the mucus membranes and may thicken secretions. Also never use decongestant nose sprays for more than two or three days. Prolonged use of these sprays can actually cause a rebound condition that make nasal congestion worse.

Finally, your doctor may suggest you use a room vaporizer or humidifier at night to improve nasal drainage, or instruct you to irrigate your nose and sinuses.

Evaluating Chronic Sinusitis

If you have three or four episodes of sinusitis per year, and if your symptoms interfere with your daily activities, you should have a more detailed medical evaluation detoxic ára.

A referral to a board-certified allergist for a full allergy workup is in order if recurrent or chronic sinusitis is accompanied by allergies. Allergy shots should be started, if appropriate.

A referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist is in order if chronic sinusitis fails to respond to antibiotics. Nasal polyps or a deviated septum often obstruct the sinus opening in such cases. To diagnose the problem, the specialist may order a sinus x-ray or CT scan. He may also look into the sinuses with an endoscope, a simple examination that can be done in the doctor’s office. Surgery is sometimes needed to remove obstructions.

Sinusitis is a common medical problem. By knowing its symptoms and seeking prompt medical attention, you can help ensure that it doesn’t become a serious problem.

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