Treatment for Sinus Infections (Sinusitis, Nasal Congestion)
“Although a sinus infection is very rarely life-threatening, it can certainly affect your quality of life. Caused by viruses and bacteria, sinus infections may become chronic and can be difficult to eradicate. If you are suffering from symptoms of a sinus infection, make an appointment to come in and see me. Treatment is available”.
What is a sinus infection?
Sinus infection (also referred to as sinusitis or rhinosinusitis) is an inflammation affecting the mucous lining of the sinuses and nasal passages. Your sinuses are four pairs of air-filled pockets or chambers located in your skull behind your eyes, cheeks, forehead and nasal bones. No one is sure why we have sinuses. Some researchers feel that our sinuses keep our skull from being too heavy (air weighs far less than dense bone); other researchers think these air-filled chambers add resonance and character to our voices.
The mucous membranes that line your nasal passages and sinuses help to moisten the air you inhale. Mucous membranes also produce the mucous that helps to trap dirt, dust and harmful organisms, preventing them from traveling farther down your airway to your lungs. These mucous membranes are lined with cilia, tiny hair-like projections that constantly sweep foreign substances trapped in mucous towards the back of the throat, where it can be swallowed.
When these mucous membranes become inflamed from allergies or infection, they swell and produce even more mucous, causing nasal and sinus congestion.
What are the symptoms of a sinus infection?
Sinusitis generally follows a cold. Why? When you have a cold, the cold virus may damage the delicate cilia lining your sinuses and nasal passages so that mucous cannot be swept to the back of your throat to be swallowed. The mucous lining becomes inflamed which can block the small opening between your sinuses and your nasal passages so that your sinuses can’t drain. The mucous that is trapped in your sinuses becomes thicker, which makes it the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Symptoms of acute sinusitis may include:
- a cold that just “won’t go away” (lasts longer than 10 days to 2 weeks)
- fever (usually low-grade)
- yellow or green nasal discharge
- cough which may be worse at night
- halitosis (bad breath)
- puffy eyes upon awakening
- toothache (upper molars due to their proximity to sinuses)
- pain behind the eyes, cheeks or forehead
- increased pain when leaning the head forward
You may be diagnosed with chronic sinusitis if your symptoms last longer than 3 months.
What can I expect if I come in with symptoms of a sinus infection?
If you come in and see us with complaints of cold symptoms that aren’t subsiding, we will ask you about your symptoms. Specifically, we will ask if you have a cough, headache, fever or colored nasal discharge. We will examine your ears, nose and throat for signs of redness or inflammation. We may press or tap gently on your sinuses to see if doing so causes you pain.
What is the treatment for sinusitis?
It can be difficult even for doctors to differentiate between sinusitis caused by a virus (which will not respond to antibiotics) and sinusitis caused by a bacteria (which can be successfully treated with antibiotics). If you have had sinusitis symptoms for longer than 10 days, we will likely prescribe an antibiotic. It is very important that you finish the entire course of antibiotics prescribed so that you don’t relapse and become even sicker.
There are several home remedies that may be helpful if you have sinusitis:
- inhalation of warm steam (not hot)
- nasal irrigation with warm saline
- decongestant sprays (should not be used for prolonged periods of time)
- drinking plenty of fluids (to thin nasal secretions)
- warm moist compresses to the face for pain relief
It is important that you come back to see us if your symptoms do not improve or worsen. Rarely, bacterial sinus infections can spread to the ear (causing otitis media), the lining of the brain (causing meningitis) or the eye socket (resulting in vision loss if not treated aggressively).
If your cold symptoms are lingering for longer than 2 weeks and you are very congested or have fever, facial pain or headache, you should make an appointment to come in to the clinic to be checked for sinusitis.