Sinuses are hollow cavities normally filled with air. But if sinus cavities become blocked, an infection can develop, which is referred to as sinusitis.

Some people get temporary sinus infections when having a cold, while other sufferers may develop recurring infections because of hay fever (allergic rhinitis), nasal polyps, or exposure to nasal irritants. If you have sinusitis, treatment will depend on the source of the infection and whether or not there are underlying issues creating a perfect environment for infections.

Acute and Chronic Sinusitis

Sinusitis is often considered either acute or chronic. Short-term sinus infections that produce symptoms for about a month are referred to as acute sinusitis. Related symptoms usually include pressure headaches, a stuffy nose, and congestion. Some acute sinusitis sufferers also have increased fatigue, dental pain, and a reduce sense of smell.

Chronic sinusitis refers to a sinus infection that continues to produce symptoms for more than a month. Symptoms are generally the same as what’s experienced with acute infection, although some sufferers may also have a persistent feeling of facial fullness, discolored postnasal drainage, a fever, or pus in the nasal cavity. It’s chronic sinusitis that’s more likely to be related to some type of blockage, which often contributes to tissue inflammation.

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Some individuals have what’s termed sub-acute sinus inflammation, which lasts for about 4-12 weeks. If symptoms periodically return, a sufferer has recurrent sinusitis. Sinus infections, in general, may be caused, in part, by any of the following issues:

  • Narrow or blocked drainage ducts
  • Immune system deficiencies
  • Environmental irritants, like cigarette smoke
  • Structural defects within the sinus cavities

Diagnosing a Sinus Infection

With short-term infections, a diagnosis is usually made based on symptoms and a visual examination of the affected sinus passages. This is sometimes done with a nasal endoscopy, which involves the use of lighted tube with a tiny camera that’s inserted via the nose. For longer-lasting sinus infections, image tests may be performed to look for abnormalities or obstructions.

Managing and Treating Sinusitis

Initial treatment often includes recommendations to use a decongestant and perform saline nasal washes to help clear nasal passages. Over-the-counter decongestants, however, shouldn’t be used for more than 2-3 days since long-term use may actually cause congestion. Chronic or recurring sinusitis is more likely to be treated with antibiotics or inhaled or oral steroids to reduce swelling within sinus membranes. Sinusitis treatment and symptom management may also involve:

  • Warm compresses to ease sinus-related pain
  • Saline nose drops
  • Antihistamines if allergies are a contributing factor
  • The use of immunoglobulin to counter related issues with immune deficiencies
  • Surgery to clear severe blockages or correct structural defects

More than 30 million Americans deal with sinus infections each year, so you’re not alone if you have sinusitis. You may be able to reduce your risk of being sidelined with a serious sinus infection by being mindful of pollen counts if you have seasonal allergy issues or regularly washing your hands to avoid germ transfer. Drinking plenty of water and opting for foods that promote optimal sinus health may also help keep sinus infections from developing.