Understanding the Effects of Sinusitis

Sinusitis, also called a sinus infection, is an inflammation of the sinuses, the hollow cavities within the cheekbones, around your eyes and behind your nose. It is often caused by a bacterial infection and may occur following a respiratory infection such as the common cold. People with allergic rhinitis (allergies) or asthma are more likely to suffer from chronic sinusitis because the airways are more likely to become inflamed when allergies or asthma are present. Symptoms often include:

  • Thick nasal discharge
  • Nasal congestion
  • Postnasal drip, often with bad taste
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Pain in the teeth
  • Decreased sense of smell
  • Wheeze, if asthmatic

Acute Sinusitis refers to sinusitis symptoms lasting less than four weeks. Most cases begin as the common cold. Symptoms often go away within a week to 10 days, but in some people, a bacterial infection develops, and antibiotics may be required. Chronic Sinusitis is often diagnosed when acute symptoms have gone on for more than eight weeks despite medical treatment.

When the underlying cause of chronic sinusitis is treated effectively, it frequently disappears or becomes less of a problem. Since allergies can lead to chronic sinusitis, immunotherapy (allergy shots, drops or tablets) is the most effective long-term approach towards a cure. Immunotherapy is the only disease-modifying treatment for nasal allergies. As you receive immunotherapy, you gradually decrease your sensitivity and build up a tolerance to your allergens.

If your chronic sinusitis goes untreated, you can expect frequent sinus, ear, and upper and lower respiratory infections. It is even possible for the infection to invade the boney tissue (osteomyelitis), and in rare cases it can cause meningitis.

It can be difficult to determine if your nasal symptoms are due to a sinus infection or structural nasal abnormality, or secondary to allergies. Allergy symptoms can be seasonal or year-round and can last months at a time, just as chronic sinus infection can. A careful medical history, physical exam, allergy testing and, at times, a Sinus X-Ray or CT scan, can help define the cause of the symptoms.

Our board-certified allergy and asthma specialist will conduct a medical history, including an assessment of your symptoms and a relevant physical exam to look for polyps or changes in the anatomy of the nose (if necessary, a CT scan will be ordered). The allergist may also conduct skin testing to determine which triggers are causing nasal swelling. Once the allergist knows the triggers that are causing your chronic symptoms, a treatment plan will be recommended.