Infection of the Sinuses
Have you ever had a cold or allergy attack that wouldn’t go away? If so, there’s a good chance you actually had sinusitis. Experts estimate that 37 million people are afflicted with sinusitis each year, making it one of the most common health conditions in America. That number may be significantly higher, since the symptoms of bacterial sinusitis often mimic those of colds or allergies, and many sufferers never see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment with an antibiotic.
What is Sinusitis?
Acute bacterial sinusitis is an infection of the sinus cavities caused by bacteria. It is usually preceded by a cold, allergy attack, or irritation by environmental pollutants. Unlike a cold or allergy, bacterial sinusitis requires a physician’s diagnosis and treatment with an antibiotic to cure the infection and prevent future complications.
Normally, mucus collecting in the sinuses drains into the nasal passages. When you have a cold or allergy attack, your sinuses become inflamed and are unable to drain. This can lead to congestion and infection.
Diagnosis of acute sinusitis is based on a physical examination and a discussion of your symptoms. Your doctor may use x-rays of your sinuses or obtain a sample of your nasal discharge to test for bacteria.
Therapy for bacterial sinusitis should include an appropriate antibiotic.In addition to an antibiotic, an oral or nasal spray or drop decongestant may be recommended to relieve congestion, although you should avoid prolonged use of nonprescription nasal sprays or drops. Inhaling steam or using saline nasal sprays or drops can relieve sinus discomfort.
Surgery should be considered only if medical treatment fails or if there is a nasal obstruction that cannot be corrected with medications. The type of surgery is chosen to best suit the patient and the disease.
Balloon sinuplasty is a method similar to balloon angioplasty in cardiac surgery, with balloon technology used to open a sinus rather than a vessel. For patients who have suffered for years from sinus problems, this procedure offers new hope for improved quality of life. Patients benefit from this less invasive surgery.
Functional endoscopic sinus surgery (FESS) is recommended for certain types of sinus disease. With the endoscope, the surgeon can look directly into the nose, while at the same time, removing diseased tissue and polyps and clearing the narrow channels between the sinuses. The decision whether to use local or general anesthesia will be made between you and your doctor, depending on your individual circumstances.
As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To avoid developing sinusitis during a cold or allergy attack, keep your sinuses clear by:
- Using an oral decongestant or a short course of nasal spray decongestant.
- Gently blowing your nose, blocking one nostril while blowing through the other.
- Drinking plenty of fluids to keep nasal discharge thin.
- Avoiding air travel. If you must fly, use a nasal spray decongestant before takeoff to prevent blockage of the sinuses allowing mucus to drain.
- Avoiding contact with things that trigger allergy attacks. If you cannot, use over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines and/or a prescription nasal sprays to control allergy attacks.
Allergy testing, followed by appropriate treatments, may increase your tolerance of allergy-causing substances.
A Word about Children
Your child’s sinuses are not fully developed until age 20. However, children can still suffer from sinus infection. Although small, the maxillary (behind the cheek) and ethmoid (between the eyes) sinuses are present at birth. Sinusitis is difficult to diagnose in children because respiratory infections are more frequent, and symptoms can be subtle. Unlike a cold or allergy, bacterial sinusitis requires a physician’s diagnosis and treatment with an antibiotic to prevent future complications.
The following symptoms may indicate a sinus infection in your child:
- A “cold” lasting more then 10-14 days, sometimes with low-grade fever
- Thick yellow-green nasal drainage
- Post nasal drip, sometimes leading to or exhibited as sore throat, cough, bad breath, nausea and/or vomiting
- Headache, usually not before age six
- Irritability or fatigue
- Swelling around the eyes
If these symptoms persist despite appropriate medical therapy, care should be taken to seek an underlying cause. The role of allergy and frequent upper respiratory infections should be considered.