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Sinusitis


Definition:

Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinuses. It occurs as the result of an infection from a virus, bacteria, or fungus.

Alternative Names:

Acute sinusitis; Sinus infection; Sinusitis - acute; Sinusitis - chronic; Rhinosinusitis

Symptoms:

The symptoms of acute sinusitis in adults usually follow a cold that does not get better or gets worse after 5 - 7 days. Symptoms include:

  • Bad breath or loss of smell
  • Cough, often worse at night
  • Fatigue and general feeling of being ill
  • Fever
  • Headache -- pressure-like pain, pain behind the eyes, toothache, or tenderness of the face
  • Nasal stuffiness and discharge
  • Sore throat and postnasal drip

Symptoms of chronic sinusitis are the same as those of acute sinusitis, but tend to be milder and last longer than 12 weeks.

Symptoms of sinusitis in children include:

  • Cold or respiratory illness that has been getting better and then begins to get worse
  • High fever, along with a darkened nasal discharge, that lasts for at least 3 days
  • Nasal discharge, with or without a cough, that has been present for more than 10 days and is not improving
Signs and tests:

The doctor will examine you or your child for sinusitis by:

  • Looking in the nose for signs of polyps
  • Shining a light against the sinus (transillumination) for signs of inflammation
  • Tapping over a sinus area to find infection

Most of the time, regular x-rays of the sinuses do not diagnose sinusitis well.

Viewing the sinuses through a fiberoptic scope (called nasal endoscopy or rhinoscopy) may help diagnose sinusitis. This is often done by doctors who specialize in ear, nose, and throat problems (ENTs).

Imaging tests that may be used to decide on treatment are:

  • A CT scan of the sinuses to help diagnose sinusitis or view the bones and tissues of the sinuses more closely
  • An MRI of the sinuses if there might be a tumor or fungal infection

If you or your child has sinusitis that does not go away or keeps returning, other tests may include:

  • Allergy testing
  • Blood tests for HIV or other tests for poor immune function
  • Ciliary function test
  • Nasal culture
  • Nasal cytology
  • Sweat chloride tests for cystic fibrosis
Treatment:

SELF CARE

Try the following measures to help reduce congestion in your sinuses:

  • Apply a warm, moist washcloth to your face several times a day.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to thin the mucus.
  • Inhale steam 2 - 4 times per day (for example, while sitting in the bathroom with the shower running).
  • Spray with nasal saline several times per day.
  • Use a humidifier.
  • Use a Neti pot to flush the sinuses.

Be careful with use of over-the-counter spray nasal decongestants. They may help at first, but using them for more than 3 - 5 days can make nasal stuffiness worse.

To help ease sinus pain or pressure:

  • Avoid flying when you are congested.
  • Avoid temperature extremes, sudden changes in temperature, and bending forward with your head down.
  • Try acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

MEDICATIONS AND OTHER TREATMENTS

Most of the time, antibiotics are not needed for acute sinusitis. Most of these infections go away on their own. Even when antibiotics do help, they may only slightly reduce the time it takes for the infection to go away. Antibiotics may be prescribed sooner for:

  • Children with nasal discharge, possibly with a cough, that is not getting better after 2 - 3 weeks
  • Fever higher than 102.2° Fahrenheit (39° Celsius)
  • Headache or pain in the face
  • Severe swelling around the eyes

Acute sinusitis should be treated for 10 - 14 days. Chronic sinusitis should be treated for 3 - 4 weeks. Some people with chronic sinusitis may need special medicines to treat fungal infections.

At some point, your doctor will consider:

  • Other prescription medications
  • More testing
  • Referral to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) or allergy specialist

Other treatments for sinusitis include:

  • Allergy shots (immunotherapy) to help prevent the disease from returning
  • Avoiding allergy triggers
  • Nasal corticosteroid sprays and antihistamines to decrease swelling, especially if there are nasal polyps or allergies

Surgery to enlarge the sinus opening and drain the sinuses may also be needed. You may need to consider this procedure if:

  • Your symptoms do not go away after 3 months of treatment.
  • You have more than two or three episodes of acute sinusitis each year.

An ENT specialist (also known as an otolaryngologist) can perform this surgery.

Most fungal sinus infections need surgery. Surgery to repair a deviated septum or nasal polyps may prevent the condition from returning.

Expectations (prognosis):

Most sinus infections can be cured with self-care measures and medical treatment. If you are having repeated attacks, you should be checked for causes such as nasal polyps or other problems, such as allergies.

Complications:

Although very rare, complications may include:

Calling your health care provider:

Call your doctor if:

  • Your symptoms last longer than 10 - 14 days or you have a cold that gets worse after 7 days.
  • You have a severe headache that is not relieved by over-the-counter pain medicine.
  • You have a fever.
  • You still have symptoms after taking all of your antibiotics properly.
  • You have any changes in your vision during a sinus infection.

A green or yellow discharge does not mean that you definitely have a sinus infection or need antibiotics.

Prevention:

The best way to prevent sinusitis is to avoid colds and flu or treat problems quickly.

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants and other chemicals that could boost your immune system and help your body resist infection.
  • Get an influenza vaccine each year.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Wash your hands often, particularly after shaking hands with others.

Other tips for preventing sinusitis:

  • Avoid smoke and pollutants.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to increase moisture in your body.
  • Take decongestants during an upper respiratory infection.
  • Treat allergies quickly and appropriately.
  • Use a humidifier to increase moisture in your nose and sinuses.
References:

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Evidence-based care guideline for management of acute bacterial sinusitis in children 1 to 18 years of age. Cincinnati (OH): Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center; 2006.

Chow AW, Benninger MS, Brook I, Brozek JL, Goldstein EJ, Hicks LA, et al. IDSA clinical practice guideline for acute bacterial rhinosinusitis in children and adults. Clin Infect Dis. 2012; 54:e72-e112.

Rosenfeld RM, Andes D, Bhattacharyya N, Cheung D, Eisenberg S, Ganiats TG, et al. Clinical practice guideline: adult sinusitis. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2007;137:S1-S31.


Review Date: 5/21/2013
Reviewed By: Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Associate Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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