What Is Sinusitis

Sinusitis refers to an infection of the sinuses, a series of hollow cavities within the skull that assist in a variety of functions including breathing. Sinusitis is most often categorized by the duration of the inflammation.

Types of Sinusitis include:

  • Acute (several days – 4 weeks)
  • Subacute (4-12 weeks)
  • Chronic (12+ weeks, several months or years)
  • Recurrent (repeated instances of inflammation within a single year)

Sinusitis is an extremely common disease. Over 28.5 million American adults were diagnosed with sinusitis in 2012. Sinusitis is most often treatable and with proper treatment does not most often lead to complications.

What Causes Sinusitis

In a healthy nose, mucus is produced by glands within the paranasal sinuses, located on either side of the nose towards the front of the face, and then flows into the nose. In sinusitis, inflammation of the nose causes the opening from the paranasal sinuses to the nose to become blocked, leading to a build-up of mucous and air within the sinuses that leads to feelings of pressure and discomfort. Sinusitis may also be caused by the migration of bacteria from the nose into the sinuses, resulting in the inflammation of the sinus mucous membrane.

Several factors can trigger the nasal inflammation that leads to sinusitis. These include:

  • The common cold
  • Allergies/Hay fever
  • Exposure to harsh chemicals
  • Chronic nasal conditions

Risk Factors For Sinusitis

The following factors can cause nasal inflammation, increasing your risk of developing sinusitis:

  • The common cold
  • Asthma
  • Allergies, including, but not limited to mold, dust, dander, and seasonal allergies
  • Exposure to harsh chemicals

Diagnosing Sinusitis

There is no single diagnostic test for sinusitis. Your doctor will most likely make a diagnosis of sinusitis using a combination of the following:

  • Physical exam taking into account the list of reported symptoms and assessing for sinus tenderness
  • Medical history to assess your risk of other conditions
  • Laboratory tests to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms

Symptoms of Sinusitis

The following may be symptoms of sinusitis:

Pain, pressure, or discomfort in any of the following regions:

  • frontal sinuses–  over the middle of the eyes in between and above the eyebrows.
  • ethmoid sinusesbetween and around the eyes as well as on the sides of the nose.
  • maxillary sinuses– the upper jaw, teeth, and cheeks
  • sphenoid sinuses– the neck, ear, and top of the head.

Excess mucous, either from the nose or in the back of the throat (post-nasal drip). Mucous may be white, yellow, green, or slightly bloody.

  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Loss of sense of smell


Most cases of sinusitis are easily treatable when detected early. The majority of patients with sinusitis make a complete recovery within a few weeks of treatment, though few patients experience further complications and infections. If you feel that you are experiencing any symptoms of sinusitis, contact your doctor. Be sure to fully complete the treatment plan recommended by your doctor to ensure the elimination of the subject.

Living With Sinusitis

The following tips can help you manage your sinusitis symptoms:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Avoid foods that promote mucous production such as flour, sugar, chocolate, dairy, and fried foods.
  • Drink warm beverages, especially herbal teas. Beware of caffeinated teas and coffee, however, as these can cause dehydration and worsen sinus pain.
  • Get plenty of rest. It’s important to give your body the time it needs to recover.
  • Don’t rush back into your routine. Give yourself time to work back up to normal activity levels, and be sure to complete your entire treatment plan. Stopping your treatment plan before you are supposed to can cause sinusitis to return.
  • Keep hydrated. Hydration is essential to keep your body’s mucous fluid.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking causes damage to mucous membranes and can increase your risk of developing sinusitis. 


Sinusitis is not commonly screened for because the symptoms are fast onset and patients typically report them themselves. If you experience any of the symptoms of sinusitis, contact your doctor.


The following tips can help you prevent sinusitis:

  • Use a humidifier. Heating and air conditioning systems can cause air to dry out. Use a humidifier, especially in the winter, to keep the air in your apartment moist. Beware of excessive humidity in indoor environments, as this can increase dust and mold allergies.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking causes damage to mucous membranes and can increase your risk of developing sinusitis.
  • Seek treatment for allergies or prolonged congestion. Persistent allergies or nasal congestion can lead to sinusitis. Avoid contact with allergens when possible, and seek proper treatment when symptoms do arise.
  • Avoid exposure to harsh chemicals such as chlorine. These can irritate the mucous membranes within the nose and sinuses and lead to sinusitis.
  • Monitor your cold symptoms. If you notice that a cold is worsening, visit your doctor. He or she may be able to recommend treatments to stop the progression of the cold to sinusitis.

Medication And Treatment

Treatments for sinusitis vary depending on whether it is acute or chronic.

Treatments for acute sinusitis include:

Decongestants to help with excess mucous and swelling within the nasal passages. These include:

  • Oxymetazoline
  • Phenylephrine

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAIDs) to help relieve pain and reduce fever. These include:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

Antibiotics in cases of bacterial infection.

Treatments for chronic sinusitis include:

  • Steroid nasal sprays to reduce swelling and inflammation in the nasal cavity
  • Saline nasal sprays to help rid the nasal passages of excess mucous
  • Oral steroids. In severe cases, oral steroids may be necessary in order to reduce inflammation.
  • Surgery. When all other forms of treatment fail, surgical intervention may be necessary to improve sinus drainage and remove nasal blockages.

Complementary and Alternative Treatment

The following alternative treatments may be useful in the treatment of sinusitis:

Neti pot. Available for purchase at your local health food store, a neti pot is a device that allows you to pour saline solution into your nostril in order to flush out the nasal passages. This can help loosen and thin mucous build up. Be sure to follow the directions that accompany your neti pot in order to assure proper use.

Massage. Massaging the sinuses can help promote proper drainage. If you don’t have access to a professional masseuse, you can try self-massaging by rubbing the areas of your sinuses in circular motions for several seconds. Sinus pressure points include in between and above the eyes, on the sides of the nose, and the cheeks.

Steam baths. To make a steam bath, bring a pot of water to a near boil and then remove from heat, lean over the pot, and place a towel over your head to contain the steam rising from the water. Breathing in steam can help decongest your nasal passages. Be sure to use caution when doing a steam bath, as too much steam can result in burns to the skin.

Acupuncture. Acupuncture is a form of ancient Chinese medicine that uses the insertion of needles at various points around the body in order to restore bodily energy. Acupuncture can help to lessen inflammation, swelling, and congestion within the sinuses.

Herbal remedies, including:

  • Cat’s claw
  • Echinacea
  • Horehound
  • Thyme

When To Contact A Doctor

f you are experiencing symptoms of sinusitis, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

If you are receiving treatment for sinusitis and experience any of the following, contact your doctor immediately:

  • Symptoms worsen
  • Persistent nausea/diarrhea
  • Fever over 104ºf
  • Persistent nasal bleeding

Questions For A Doctor

You may want to ask your doctor the following questions:

  • What caused my sinusitis?
  • What are the available treatments?
  • What are the side effects?
  • Am I contagious?
  • How long will my sinusitis last?
  • What can I do to help along my recovery?
  • Am I at risk for chronic sinusitis?
  • How long before I am able to return to my daily routine?
  • What can I do to prevent sinusitis in the future?

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