WHAT ARE THE SINUSES?

The sinuses are a connected system of hollow cavities in the skull that connect to the nose through small, narrow channels. The largest sinus cavities are about an inch across, and some others are much smaller. They’re lined with soft, pink tissue called “mucosa.” Normally, the sinuses are empty except for a thin layer of mucus. The sinuses are healthy when the channels remain open and clear, which allows air from the nose to enter the sinuses and mucus made in the sinuses to properly drain into the nose.

WHAT IS SINUSITIS?

Sinusitis means your sinuses are inflamed. The cause can be an infection or another problem. Sinusitis, also known as rhinosinusitis, affects about 1 in 8 adults annually and generally occurs when viruses or bacteria infect the sinuses (often as triggered by a cold) and begin to multiply. Part of the body’s reaction to the infection causes the sinus lining to swell, blocking the channels that drain the sinuses. This causes mucus and pus to fill up the nose and sinus cavities, thus leaving breathing quite difficult and a level of discomfort on the part of the sufferer.

HOW CAN I TELL IF I HAVE ACUTE SINUSITIS?

You probably have acute sinusitis when there has been up to 4 weeks of cloudy or colored (not clear) drainage from the nose plus one or both of the following: a stuffy, congested, or blocked nose or pain, pressure or fullness in the face, head, or around the eyes. That said, it is important to come in to your ENT office to get yourself checked out to know for sure. The sooner you can get diagnosed the better.  Acute sinusitis often starts as a cold, which then turns into a bacterial infection. Allergies, nasal problems, and certain diseases can also cause acute and chronic sinusitis.

WHAT IS ACUTE SINUSITIS VS. CHRONIC SINUSITIS?

Acute sinusitis is diagnosed when symptoms have lasted for up to 4 weeks. Chronic lasts more than 12 weeks and can continue for months and even years sometimes. There is a level between these two known as “subacute” which lasts 4 to 12 weeks. Finally, there is “recurrent” sinusitis, where several sinus attacks can occur in one year.

Chronic sinusitis is usually caused by prolonged inflammation, rather than a long-standing infection. Infection can be a part of chronic sinusitis, especially when it worsens from time to time, but is not usually the main cause.

HOW CAN I TELL IF MY ACUTE SINUSITIS IS CAUSED BY VIRUSES OR BACTERIA?

Acute viral sinusitis is likely if you have been sick less than 10 days and are not getting worse while acute bacterial sinusitis is more likely when you do not improve at all within 10 days of getting sick or when you get worse within 10 days after beginning to get better. It is important to know the cause because sinusitis is treated differently based on cause. Acute viral sinusitis does not benefit from antibiotics, for example. It is important to come in to your ENT office to get checked out to find out for sure.