Your face is loaded with holes. Sort of. Well, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that your face is full of hollow spaces, four of them to be precise. These are your sinus cavities. Your sinuses exist to help facilitate the discharge of mucus out of your nose, removing allergens and germs in the process. As a result, you breathe easier and you stay healthier.
This system functions really well most of the time. But sometimes… well, sometimes, your sinuses can themselves become infected.
What is a sinus infection?
When you’re dealing with a sinus infection, these hollow places get inflamed and swollen. Stuffy nose, headaches, and other symptoms occur when this swelling traps germs and mucus inside of the sinus cavities. Because they impair drainage, sinus infections can be pretty persistent.
For some individuals, though, this persistence represents a whole new level: their misery can endure for months… if not longer. It’s a condition called chronic sinusitis.
What is chronic sinusitis?
A standard, non-chronic sinus infection will resolve itself in a few days or so. Some of the more persistent ones can hang on for up to four weeks. That sounds really annoying, but it’s not quite a chronic sinus infection at this point.
If a sinus infection endures 12 weeks or more, that’s when it’s generally considered chronic. And your sinus infection will hang around for the entirety of these 12 weeks. If the sinus infection comes and goes it’s similar to chronic sinusitis but is instead called recurring sinusitis. Your symptoms could ebb and flow, but they will persist and they’ll feel continual. This can lead to a considerable amount of misery (or, at the very least, impact your day-to-day living).
Risk factors for chronic sinusitis
So is there a particular type of person that will be more susceptible to chronic sinusitis? As with any sickness, there’s a lot of random variability here, but there are some risk factors that can make you more susceptible to this condition. Those risk factors include:
- Nasal polyps.
- Frequent illness (whether related to bacteria or viruses).
- A deviated septum or other irregular nasal structure that makes it challenging for mucus to correctly drain.
- Airways that are constantly blocked due to conditions like allergies, asthma, or cystic fibrosis.
This is just a partial list. But you can think about it like this: anything that increases swelling and or makes it difficult for mucus to drain normally will raise your chance of developing a chronic sinus infection in the future.
How are chronic sinus infections diagnosed?
So how will we know for certain that it’s chronic sinusitis you’re dealing with? Well, there are a couple of things we will do to be certain this is the condition you’re dealing with:
- Imaging tests and diagnostic procedures: We might do an X-ray, CT, or MRI scan to get a better understanding of what’s happening in your sinuses.
- Sinus cultures: We might take a culture to find out what’s creating your infection. Whether the infection is bacterial or viral can be determined by this test.
- Medical history and physical exam: We can get a lot of pertinent information from a medical history and physical exam.
- Nasal endoscopy: In some situations, we may need to have a look inside your nostrils. This is carried out by a tiny camera known as an endoscope.
There are lots of ways to address sinus infections, but they aren’t all correct for all types of infection sources. It’s essential to get the correct diagnoses, in other words.
How are chronic sinus infections treated?
Sinus infections are relatively common, so we may begin with a fairly conservative strategy. Often, getting over the illness simply requires a little help. Usually, the more intensive and invasive treatments are saved for later when they’re really needed.
Most of these more conservative treatments are done at home by the patient. Here are a few:
- Humidifiers and steam: Breathing in damp air can help alleviate dryness and encourage discharge, and that can help relieve your symptoms.
- Nasal irrigation and saline sprays: This will help drainage and minimize dryness and irritation.
- Avoiding allergy triggers: You can get substantial relief from your infections by avoiding allergy and asthma triggers if they are causing a runny nose. For example, stay away from cats if you are allergic to them.
We might prescribe some medications if these more conservative treatments aren’t effective. Here are a few possible medications:
- Decongestants: Getting mucus moving is the goal of these medications.
- Antibiotics: If your infection is caused by bacteria, this will help. Viruses, unfortunately, won’t respond to antibiotics. We might take a culture for this very reason.
- Corticosteroids: These are made to lessen inflammation in the body. Drainage will be promoted by decreased swelling.
You can get the majority of these medications in nasal spray or pill forms. Which one works best and which you prefer is something we can discuss.
Sometimes, surgery may be necessary to offer relief. Surgical options include:
- Functional changes: Drainage will be enhanced also improving symptoms with these surgical methods (for example, repairing a deviated septum would count as this kind of procedure).
- Balloon sinuplasty: This surgery helps create extra space in the sinuses by dilating the cavities, alleviating symptoms and promoting drainage.
Talk to us in advance because surgery isn’t for everyone.
Controlling your chronic sinusitis more effectively
In some cases, treatment will only get you so far. Simply controlling chronic sinusitis will be the best way to alleviate symptoms for some individuals. You can do quite a few things that can encourage sinus health. Here are a few:
- Modifying your diet: Include foods that are good for your sinuses, such as citrus, pineapple, and hot tea. In addition, take steps to drink lots of water. Getting dehydrated is a very bad thing! Symptoms from your sinus infection can be reduced by staying hydrated.
- Lower your overall stress levels: Surprisingly, stress can bring about all sorts of physical problems in the body, including a higher tendency toward sinus infections (and a harder time fighting them off). Start doing meditation or yoga, or at least find some time for some self care!
- Altering your environment: Your exposure to seasonal and other allergens should be avoided. Also, preserving indoor air quality by replacing air filters is a beneficial step toward controlling sinus infections.
Controlling your chronic sinusitis is something that occurs in conjunction with our help. So be sure to talk to us about measures you can take at home to avoid sinusitis symptoms.
Mental health self-care
It’s significant to keep in mind that any chronic illness can have an impact on your mental health. Of course, you will feel mentally drained when you’re constantly in pain. So seek support from mental health professionals, support groups, and your peers. If you’re having a difficult time coping with your chronic sinusitis, it’s okay and you’re not alone. It can sap your strength! So if you need some help, be sure you seek it out.
What’s in store for the future?
Over 11% of the United States population is afflicted with chronic sinusitis. So new treatment possibilities are always being developed by physicians and scientists. New remedies could include novel nasal sprays and brand new drugs (such as Dupixent, an injectable medication that aims at reducing nasal polyps). Depending on your specific infection and outlook, some of these new treatments might be right for you.
Delivering results with minimal incisions is also something that surgeons are always developing.
Get the help you need
Most individuals won’t be able to resolve chronic sinusitis alone. They’ll require help, and that’s just fine! Instead of focusing on how bad your head hurts or when your stuffy nose may clear up, effective treatment will get you back out enjoying the things you love to do.
Are you being sidetracked by chronic sinusitis? Make an appointment today to discover your treatment options.