Get Help for Sinus Pain in Northern Colorado
Have you ever had a cold or allergy attack that just didn’t seem to want to go away? If so, there’s a good chance you actually had sinusitis. Millions of 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 are strikingly similar to those of the common viral colds or seasonal allergies, so many sufferers never consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
What is sinusitis?
Acute bacterial sinusitis is a bacterial infection of the sinus cavities. Sinusitis is usually preceded by a cold, allergy flare-up, or irritation caused by environmental pollutants. The common cold is a virus, which will pass on its own and symptoms can be treated, but the sufferer will have to wait it out. Allergies cause uncomfortable symptoms that can be treated with antihistamines and other over-the-counter allergy medications. Neither of these conditions usually require medical intervention. However, 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 flare-up, your sinus cavities become inflamed and are unable to drain. The tiny holes that normally drain the sinuses become blocked by this inflammation and the resulting infection in the sinuses accumulates, causing intense pressure. Diagnosis of acute sinusitis is based on a physical examination and a review of your symptoms. Your doctor also may recommend CT scan of your sinus cavities or may obtain a culture of your nasal discharge to test for bacteria presence.
When does acute sinusitis become chronic?
When you have frequent sinusitis, or the infection lasts longer than three months, it is considered chronic. Symptoms of chronic sinusitis may be less severe than those of acute sinusitis. However, left untreated, chronic sinusitis can cause damage to the sinus cavities and the surrounding structures. Your physician may order a CT scan to help determine what type of sinusitis is present, which sinuses are involved, and if there are structural abnormalities that are causing blockages.
What treatments are available?
Therapy for acute bacterial sinusitis should include an appropriate antibiotic and saline sinus rinses. In addition to an antibiotic, a nasal decongestant may be recommended to help reduce swelling and relieve congestion. However, nasal decongestants should not be used for more than 4 to 5 consecutive days since these can be habit-forming and cause “rebound swelling” once use is discontinued. Inhaling steam from a humidifier or a hot shower, or using saline nasal sprays can help relieve sinus discomfort.
Proper antibiotics should be prescribed by your physician to ensure it will be effective on the strain of bacteria attacking your sinuses. When you use antibiotics, you should use them as prescribed and for the full course to prevent antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Antibiotic resistance means that some infection-causing bacteria are immune to certain antibiotics and can make treating common infections, such as sinusitis, challenging to treat. You can help prevent antibiotic resistance by taking all of the medication that the doctor has prescribed, even if your symptoms are gone before the medicine runs out.
Surgery is generally avoided but may be considered 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 their diagnosis. Surgery is usually performed by using scopes inserted into the sinus cavities through the nose, but can also be performed through a small incision under the upper lip or behind the eyebrow. Your ENT surgeon will discuss which option is best for you.
Functional endoscopic sinus surgery (FESS) is recommended for certain types of sinus disease. With an endoscope, your ENT surgeon can directly view the nose, while at the same time, removing diseased tissue or polyps that might be narrowing the sinuses drainage passageways.
When should a doctor be consulted?
Because the symptoms of sinusitis tend to mimic those of colds and allergies, you may not realize you need to see your physician right away. If you suspect you have sinusitis, review these signs and symptoms. If you suffer from three or more, you should see your doctor.
The following symptoms may indicate sinusitis:
- Symptoms of a cold that last more than 10 days
- A cold that features low-grade fever
- Thick yellow-green nasal drainage
- Post-nasal drip, sometimes leading to a sore throat, cough, bad breath, nausea or vomiting
- A headache
- Irritability or fatigue
- Swelling around the eyes or cheeks
Tips to prevent sinusitis
As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To avoid developing sinusitis during a cold or allergy flare-up, keep your sinuses clear by:
Use an oral decongestant or a short course (4 days) of nasal spray decongestant
Gently blow your nose, blocking one nostril while blowing through the other
Drink plenty of fluids to keep nasal discharge thin
Avoid air travel. If you must fly, use a nasal spray decongestant before take-off to prevent blockage of the sinuses and allow mucus to drain
If you have allergies, try to avoid contact with things that trigger attacks. If you cannot, use over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines
Can children suffer from sinus infections?
Children’s sinuses are not fully developed until around age 20. However, children can still suffer from sinusitis. 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 symptoms can be subtle and often overlap with the more common upper respiratory infections.
If you have problems with your sinuses or chronic sinusitis, contact us at Alpine ENT to schedule your consultation.