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Sinusitis (sinus infection): Symptoms & Treatments

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Sinusitis is the inflammation of the sinuses in the head. Sinuses are hollow areas within the skull that contain air.

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Although empty, these spaces can get inflamed due to infections, allergies and pollutants.

The body’s natural reaction to infections, allergens and pollutants like smoke and fumes is to cause inflammation of the mucous linings.

When sinus mucous linings get inflamed, they become red and swollen.

The sinus lining also produces a protective mucus layer which paralyzes the cilia of the lining. Paralysis of the cilia has negative effects because this means that it will not be able to push the accumulated fluids out of the sinuses.

This results in stasis or accumulation of fluids within the sinuses. This increases the pressure within the sinuses causing facial pain, tenderness and headache.

Sinusitis can be further classified as acute or chronic. Acute sinusitis usually lasts only 7-10 days and is usually caused by viruses. On the other hand, chronic sinusitis lasts longer than 3 months and is mostly due to allergies and bacterial infections.

Who Can Get Sinusitis?

Sinusitis is very common in all parts of the world and anyone from all age groups can develop it. Anyone who has a respiratory infection with symptoms of nasal discharge, cough and phlegm can develop sinusitis. In children, the allergic type of sinusitis is more common.

Allergies are triggered when children are exposed to allergens like pollen, dust and dander. However, not only children develop sinusitis due to allergies. Adults who have allergies can also develop sinusitis.

Asthma is also another respiratory disease that can cause sinusitis. People who are also exposed frequently to pollutants like smoke or noxious fumes can also develop sinusitis.

Examples of occupations that are prone to develop sinusitis are factory workers and traffic aides.

What Are The Symptoms?
The most common symptoms of sinusitis are nasal congestion and facial tenderness. Facial tenderness usually worsens when pressed or when the patient is asked to bend over.

Headache is also a common symptom. Those with the severe type also present with anosmia meaning loss of the sense of smell.

This is because of the nasal congestion which blocks air from entering the nose.

How Is It Diagnosed?
The physician initially takes a good history of symptoms and does a physical examination. Simple tests in the physical examination which can demonstrate sinusitis is the transillumination test.

This test makes use of a flashlight which is pressed onto the face just right above the sinuses.

When the sinuses illuminates, this means that there is no sinusitis. However, if light is totally blocked, this means that the sinuses are congested.

This test is only done to give an initial impression but is not done alone without the aid of other diagnostic tests.

A CT scan is the most useful exam because it can visualize the status of the sinuses and other nasal structures. Biopsies and cultures can also be done.

How Is It Treated?
Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms. Mild to moderate cases may only warrant nasal corticosteroids.

This reduces the inflammation and can help relieve symptoms. However, not all cases can be controlled with corticosteroids alone.

Severe chronic sinusitis will most usually require Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery. This procedure will increase the nasal passageway to facilitate better outflow and inflow of air.

How Can It Be Prevented?
Sinusitis can be prevented by avoiding allergens like pollen, dust and smoke. For those working in places constantly exposed to allergens and other chemicals, appropriate facial masks should be worn.

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