What Are Sinuses?
Sinuses are air-filled cavities with a mucus-producing lining that are connected to the nasal cavity. There are four main paired sinus cavities:
- Maxillary Sinuses: The largest sinuses, they are located in the cheek region.
- Ethmoid Sinuses: The most commonly infected sinuses, the ethmoids are actually a collection of many small sinuses located primarily between the eyes.
- Frontal Sinuses: The most susceptible to pressure discomfort, the frontals are located in the lower forehead.
- Sphenoid Sinuses: Infected less frequently, the sphenoids are located at the very back of the nasal cavity—almost in the center of the head.
In the normal state, mucus produced within the sinuses flows through tiny openings into the nose itself, helping the nose clean itself of pollens, dust, and bacteria inhaled throughout the day.
What Is Sinusitis?
Sinusitis simply means inflammation (“-itis”) of the sinuses. Sinusitis can arise from many causes, and may or may not be associated with a true infection. It typically presents with facial pressure, congestion, discolored post-nasal drip and decreased smell. The most common sinus infections are viral, and often resolve on their own with time.
Sinusitis is most often diagnosed by primary or urgent care providers clinically, by a history of symptoms and a brief physical exam. As specialists in sinus disease, otolaryngologists can perform a variety of in-office procedures including nasal endoscopy, sinus cultures, and imaging to get to the most accurate diagnosis. Once diagnosed, sinusitis is often classified due to the duration of symptoms—and treated accordingly.
The most common type of sinusitis, acute sinusitis, refers to sinus inflammation or infection lasting less than 4 weeks in duration. Some are viral in nature, but all acute sinusitis has the potential of clearing on its own within 7 days. Cases that are more severe, or last more than a week, may require medical treatment. Typically a short course of antibiotics is all that is needed.
Recurrent Acute Sinusitis
There are many patients who get acute sinusitis several times each year. At some point, the cycle of sickness and antibiotics can be a significant nuisance that affects the patient’s quality of life and productivity. For those suffering four or more infections annually, the focus shifts to accurate diagnosis as to why the infections keep recurring. Allergy testing, CT imaging and/or nasal endoscopy often reveal the keys to breaking the cycle of recurrent sinusitis.
Those who get symptomatic sinusitis lasting more than 3 months in a row are diagnosed with chronic sinusitis. Chronic sinusitis is very common, affecting about 15% of the U.S. population and costing the American healthcare system over $4 billion annually. Chronic sinusitis usually requires intensive treatment over 2-4 weeks, often with oral or topical antibiotics, steroids and saline rinses. When treatment fails to break the cycle of chronic sinusitis, surgery may be necessary to get symptoms under control and prevent future infections.
Complications of Sinusitis
Most sinusitis certainly makes patients miserable, but in rare cases untreated sinusitis can become quite dangerous—or even a medical emergency. Some complications of untreated sinusitis include:
- Orbital (eye) cellulitis or abscess
- Brain abscess
- Septic shock
Avoiding complications and getting lasting relief starts with the proper workup and plan of care. The physicians of Midwest ENT Centre have the tools and expertise to get your sinus problems accurately diagnosed and effectively treated—in the easiest, least invasive way that brings you relief. For those patients who don’t respond to medical therapy, sinus surgery may be an option.
Call Midwest ENT Centre at (636) 441-3100 for more information or to schedule an appointment.