Your face is sort of loaded with holes. Well, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that your face is full of hollow places, four of them to be precise. These are known as sinuses. (Or sinus cavities.) Your sinuses help remove allergens and germs by facilitating mucus discharge from your nose. Consequently, you breathe easier and you remain healthier.
Most of the time this system functions extremely well. 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 spaces become inflamed and swollen. Plugged nose, headaches, and other symptoms occur when this inflammation traps germs and mucus inside of the sinus cavities. Sinus infections can become chronic because they block the drainage of mucus.
For some individuals, though, this persistence takes on a whole new level: their misery can endure for months… if not longer. It’s a condition known as 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 stick around for as many as four weeks. As annoying as that is, it’s still not quite chronic yet.
If a sinus infection endures 12 weeks or longer, that’s when it’s typically considered chronic. And your sinus infection will last for the entirety of these 12 weeks. If the sinus infection comes and goes it’s similar to chronic sinusitis but is instead known as recurring sinusitis. Your symptoms may ebb and flow, but they will persist and they’ll feel continual. This can cause a considerable amount of misery (or, at the very least, impact your everyday living).
Risk factors for chronic sinusitis
So who develops chronic sinusitis? As with any illness, there’s a great deal of random variability here, but there are a few risk factors that can make you more likely to develop this condition. Those risk factors include:
- Recurring bacterial or viral illnesses.
- Continually obstructed airways, frequently related to asthma, allergies, or cystic fibrosis.
- A deviated septum or other abnormal nasal structure that makes it difficult for mucus to correctly drain.
- Nasal polyps.
This is only a partial list. So if you’re dealing with any condition that makes drainage of mucus more difficult, you will be more at risk of chronic sinus infections.
Diagnosing chronic sinusitis
So if you have chronic sinusitis, how will we know for sure? Well, there are a few things we will do to be certain this is the condition you have:
- Sinus cultures: We might take a culture to determine what’s causing your infection. Whether the infection is viral or bacterial can be established by this test.
- Imaging tests and diagnostic procedures: We might order an X-ray, CT, or MRI scan to get a better understanding of what’s going on in your sinuses.
- Medical history and physical exam: Just as with any other diagnosis, a physical exam and medical history can supply a lot of information.
- Nasal endoscopy: Sometimes, we might use a tiny camera known as an endoscope to take a look inside your nostrils.
Not all treatments for a sinus infection will be appropriate for all types of infections. In other words, getting a correct diagnosis is critical to success.
Dealing with chronic sinus infections
Sinus infections are quite common, so we may begin with a somewhat conservative strategy. Frequently, recovering from the illness simply requires a little help. Usually, the more intense and invasive solutions are saved for later when they are really necessary.
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 lessen your symptoms.
- Avoiding allergy triggers: If allergies and asthma are causing sniffling and that sniffling leads to a chronic sinus infection, then steering clear of the original cause can offer significant relief. If you’re allergic to cats, for instance, stay away from those feline friends.
- Nasal irrigation and saline sprays: This might help diminish irritation and dryness of the sinuses and help drainage.
When those at-home, conservative remedies don’t work, we may suggest one or more medications. Some of those medications may include the following:
- Corticosteroids: These are designed to reduce inflammation in the body. Reduced inflammation in your sinuses can increase drainage.
- Decongestants: These medications are designed to get things (mostly mucus) moving again!
- Antibiotics: This will only help when your sinus infection is brought on by a bacteria. It won’t help with viruses, regrettably. This is one reason why we might order a culture.
Many medications come in either pill or nasal spray forms. Which one is most effective and which you favor is something we can help you with.
In some situations, surgery may be required to offer relief. Surgical options include:
- Functional changes: Drainage will be enhanced also improving symptoms with these surgical procedures (for instance, repairing a deviated septum would count as this type of procedure).
- Balloon sinuplasty: Extra space is created as this surgery helps dilate the sinus cavities encouraging drainage and alleviating the symptoms.
Talk to us in advance because surgery isn’t for everyone.
Dealing with your chronic sinusitis more effectively
Treatment will only help so much in some situations. For some individuals, simply controlling chronic sinusitis can help alleviate symptoms by preventing a flare-up before it starts. You can do a number of things that can promote sinus health. Here are a few:
- Modifying your diet: Drink hot tea and eat foods such as pineapple and citrus which are healthy for your sinuses. Also, drink as much water as you can. Dehydration is your enemy! Symptoms from your sinus infection can be decreased by staying hydrated.
- Altering your environment: You can take measures to reduce your exposure to irritants and allergens (avoid seasonal allergies, for instance). Also, preserving indoor air quality by changing air filters is a beneficial step toward controlling sinus infections.
- Lower your overall stress levels: You may be surprised to learn that stress can boost the likelihood of getting a sinus infection and can also make it harder to get rid of them. Take up meditation or yoga, or at least find some time for some self care!
We will be there to help you effectively control your chronic sinusitis. So be certain to consult us about steps you can take at home to steer clear of sinusitis symptoms.
Mental health care
Don’t forget that your mental health can be affected by any chronic illness. Obviously, you will feel mentally depleted when you’re constantly in pain. So find support from mental health professionals, support groups, and your peers. If you’re having a hard time coping with your chronic sinusitis, it’s understandable and you aren’t alone. And it can take a toll. So make sure to get help where needed.
What does the future look like?
Chronic sinusitis is a problem for more than 11% of the US population. So scientists and physicians are always working on new treatment options. Novel nasal sprays and new medications (including a new injectable drug called Dupixent that aims at decreasing nasal polyps) are examples. Whether these new treatment options are right for you will depend on your symptoms and outlook.
Delivering results with minor incisions is also something that surgeons are always working on.
Get the help you need
Most individuals won’t be able to resolve chronic sinusitis on their own. It’s okay if you need some help. Instead of focusing on how bad your head hurts or when your stuffy nose might clear up, successful treatment will get you back out enjoying the things you love to do.
Is chronic sinusitis getting you down? Give us a call right away for a consultation.