What are sinuses?
Sinuses are air-filled cavities in the nasal passage, which are located behind the cheeks, forehead, nasal bones, and eyes. In Latin, the word sinus stands for ‘hollow cavity’.
There are four types of sinuses. Each sinus is labelled after the bone behind which it is situated:
- Maxillary sinuses are next to the nose on both your cheeks. These are the largest sinuses.
- Frontal sinuses are seen on the lower part of your forehead, right above your eye sockets.
- Ethmoid sinuses are located between your eyes.
- Sphenoid sinuses are located the farthest in your skull, behind the eyes.
Why do we have sinuses?
Your sinuses produce a mucus lining called mucosa that keeps the nasal passages lubricated and hydrated. The mucus also serves as a barrier for bacteria and dust, thereby protecting you against allergies. Consider your sinuses as the air purifiers of your nasal passage. Besides protecting you from inhaling harmful foreign bodies, they also help with humidifying and heating this air, enhance your voice by adding resonance to it, and aid the body reduce the weight of your skull.
What are sinus infections?
Healthy sinuses perform the abovementioned functions without any issues. They will remain empty, with an exception of a thin lining of mucus. However, many people experience sinus problems because of some viral, bacterial, or, rarely, a fungal infection. Allergies are also a primary cause behind sinuses getting inflamed or stuffed with fluid. When the sinuses are unable to drain the fluid out, you may experience sinus headache or sinus inflammation.
These are some sinus infections you should know of:
Acute sinusitis: Common cold, a viral infection, is the most frequent cause of acute sinusitis. You will experience a stuffy and congested nose, which can obstruct your sinuses and inhibit mucus drainage.
Chronic sinusitis: When your sinuses are stuffy and the mucus does not drain out of them as usual for more than three months despite seeking treatment, your condition can be termed as a chronic case of sinusitis.
Deviated septum: This phenomenon is quite common and causes one side of your nasal air passage to be smaller than the other. This happens because the septum that divides your nasal passages is off-centre. This condition can inhibit your sinuses from draining normally, causing congestion. You may also experience pain, feeling of pressure around the sinus area, and headache.
Allergic rhinitis or hay fever: Cold-like symptoms will be present with allergic rhinitis. You may have sneezing, congestion, runny nose along with itchy eyes and sinus pressure.
Nasal polyps: This is small abnormal growth or a cyst inside your nasal passages. This growth is usually soft, painless, and benign. But if the cyst enlarges over time or suddenly, your airflow can be blocked. The mucus flow in your nasal passages may also be blocked because of this; thus, you may experience nasal stuffiness and congestion, sleep disturbances, and pressure around your forehead.
Symptoms of Sinusitis
Many symptoms overlap in acute and chronic sinus issues. Seeing a physician is the most effective way to determine the presence of an infection as well as its cause and to receive treatment. Although sinusitis itself cannot be spread from person to person, the viruses and germs that cause it are communicable.
The main symptoms you should know of are:
- Facial pressure
- Pain or tenderness around the forehead, behind the eyes
- Nasal congestion
- Loss of smell
- Stuffy nose and discharge
- General feeling of sickness
- Irritated throat and cough
- Hoarse voice
- Bad breath
- Sinus headache
Diagnosis of Sinusitis
Your healthcare provider will do the following to check for sinus issues:
Physical exam: After you share what your symptoms are and how long they have persisted, your doctor will take look inside your nose for any swelling. They might also tap lightly or press around your face to check for pain.
Imaging tests: An X-ray may give an idea of problems of your sinuses. Then, there is the computed tomography (CT) scan, which can give a detailed view of the inside of your sinuses so that the doctor knows what the issue and its cause can be. CT scans are helpful in diagnosing chronic sinusitis. magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may also be ordered so that the doctor can get a comprehensive view of your sinuses.
Rhinoscopy: Using a flexible tube with a bright light attached to it allows the doctor to have a good look into your nasal passage so that they can evaluate your mucosa and spot any polyps or other abnormalities causing you sinus issues.
Sinus culture: The doctor may take a sample of your mucus to examine in the lab for the presence of any pathogens leading to sinus infections. It is a vital as well as swift and painless test.
Allergy testing: If the doctor suspects allergies have led to sinus infection and sinusitis, then they may ask you to undergo an allergy test. This test can help determine the cause of your condition and decide the adequate treatment path.
Prevention and treatment of Sinusitis
Drinking plenty of water and avoiding exposure to irritants like smoking and second-hand smoke can help keep your sinuses healthy. If you live in an area with high levels of air pollution, you should consider purchasing an air purifier.
Sinus infections can be avoided by washing out your sinuses on a regular basis with lukewarm salt water. To rinse debris from your sinuses, you can also use saline nasal sprays, and drug store nasal irrigation instruments.
If you live in an area where the air is typically dry, purchasing a humidifier is a smart investment. A humidifier will ensure that the air you are breathing is irritation-free and moist so that your sinuses can work properly.
A lot of cases of sinusitis can be treated with at-home remedies like inhaling steam to help with mucus drainage, using over-the-counter nasal decongestants, quitting smoking, and drinking a lot of water. However, the decongestants should not be used for longer than 3 to 5 days because they can worsen the stuffiness and have been found to cause dependence.
If at-home remedies do not work and if you have severe swelling, pain, and fever, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. Sinus surgery is recommended to those people who have polyps or need major sinus correction to improve their condition.