Your sinuses make up your upper respiratory tract from your nose all the way to your throat. They are located in your forehead (known as the frontal sinuses), your cheekbones (known as the maxillary sinuses), and behind the nose (known as the ethmoid and sphenoid sinuses.) The sinuses are responsible for protecting us from pollutants, dust, and other micro-organisms by producing a layer of mucus that moisturizes the inside of the nose.
Symptoms and Causes of Sinusitis
The sinuses are one of the top reasons why patients will seek medical treatment, says family physician Dr. Ali Ghahary.
For example, when you have a cold, it is not uncommon to develop a sinus infection – also known as sinusitis. Symptoms of a sinus infection/sinusitis include facial pain and/or a feeling of pressure in the face, pain in the forehead/headache, fever, nasal congestion, and a reduced sense of smell and/or taste – all of which are caused by inflammation. It’s also not uncommon to mistake sinus infections for dental problems. This is because the sinuses and teeth are close in proximity; therefore it’s not uncommon to also develop pain in the upper rear teeth.
Sinusitis is not just something that happens with the common cold, however. It can also become a chronic condition. In order to be diagnosed with chronic sinusitis, individuals will generally experience sinus inflammation that lasts for more than 3 months – and it is often the result of something other than the common cold. Things such as allergies, abnormal sinus anatomy, and blockage due to polyps (overgrowth of tissue that blocks the flow of air and mucus), and allergies can all cause chronic sinusitis.
Diagnosing sinus infections/sinusitis is generally quite easy, as doctors can often determine whether or not a patient has sinusitis based on their symptoms alone. However, Dr. Ali Ghahary may also refer patients for medical imaging tests, such as an X-ray, to determine whether or not a sinus infection is present. For a more detailed look at the sinuses, patients may also be referred for a CT scan or an MRI. An MRI provides a much clearer look at the nasal cavities.
Treatment for Sinusitis
If a patient’s sinusitis is due to a viral infection, they will unfortunately simply have to wait and let nature take its course. However, Dr. Ali Ghahary says that patients can try a few things on their own to help relieve symptoms. First and foremost, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends patients drink plenty of fluids. Keeping yourself hydrated can help thin the mucus and reduce the feeling of congestion. Taking a hot bath or shower can also help you feel better, as breathing in the warm and moist air can also help keep your sinuses open and reduce pressure. Using saline spray, which can be found at any pharmacy, also helps keep the nasal passages open as well as removes excess mucus and bacteria. Pharmacies also offer different nasal decongestant sprays, such as Otrivin. However, it’s important to note that these sprays should not be used longer than the recommended period of time (usually 3 to 5 days). Overuse of nasal decongestants can actually lead to what’s known as rebound congestion (or rhinitis medicamentosa), making you feel much worse. If you’re looking for relief from nasal congestion, try taking Advil Cold & Sinus or Tylenol Cold & Sinus, as you are less likely to develop rebound congestion from medications that are taken orally.
If you are experiencing a significant amount of pain and notice a thick, green discharge coming from the nose, this may be indicative of a severe sinus infection and should be treated with a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics commonly used to treat sinus infections include Amoxicillin and Clarithromycin. If you are allergic to either of these medications, Clindamycin is often used as an alternative.