Sinusitis is an unpleasant but not uncommon condition affecting the paranasal sinuses, which are located within the bones of the skull and face and connect with the nasal cavity. The classic symptoms of sinusitis include:
A sore throat, fatigue, halitosis and a reduced sense of smell are also associated with sinusitis in some cases.
What causes sinusitis?
The term sinusitis is used to describe the condition where the membrane lining of one or more of the paranasal sinuses becomes inflamed, usually due to a viral or bacterial infection. The infection irritates the sensitive mucus membrane causing it to swell and restricting the flow of mucus from the sinus. As the mucus builds up inside the sinus, so too does the pressure, leading to aggravated symptoms.
In some instances sinusitis may be triggered by an allergic reaction or irritation from smoke or other air pollution. In these cases, symptoms may be alleviated by simply avoiding the offending atmosphere.
The different types of sinusitis
There are two distinct classifications of sinusitis: acute and chronic. Acute sinusitis is by far the most common and is characterised by sudden onset following a severe cold or flu. The symptoms of acute sinusitis typically last for between two and three weeks.
Chronic sinusitis is defined as having symptoms that last beyond twelve weeks. Some cases where sinusitis symptoms are abating then recurring may also be classified as chronic.
Acute sinusitis treatments
In many cases the body's natural defences are able to fight off acute sinusitis, and the patient recovers without the need for medical treatment. Symptoms may be alleviated using over-the-counter pain relief and decongestants while the immune system does its work.
If symptoms persist or appear unusually severe, then a doctor may prescribe a course of antibiotics to help treat the infection.
Chronic sinusitis treatments
Chronic sinusitis may be treated medically with antibiotics and/or steroids. By the time a patient is diagnosed as suffering from chronic sinusitis, they are likely to have undergone several rounds of medical treatment without success and may therefore be referred by their GP to a specialist ear, nose and throat doctor.
In severe cases where several courses of antibiotics have failed to resolve the issue, the specialist may recommend surgery. The surgical procedure for sinusitis is known as ESS (Endoscopic Sinus Surgery) and involves the use of an endoscope to allow the surgeon to see and operate inside the nasal cavity. Having assessed the patient's condition, the surgeon will use specialised tools to enlarge the sinus opening and allow the mucus to drain.
In some cases this will mean removing tissue such as a nasal polyp which might be blocking the affected sinus. Alternatively it might mean employing a technique known as balloon catheter dilation, where a tiny balloon is inserted along the drainage channel to the sinus and then inflated to widen the channel and allow the mucus to drain.
ESS is most commonly performed under general anaesthetic but can be carried out under local anaesthetic if required.
What to do if you think you have sinusitis
If you're suffering from the symptoms described above then you may have sinusitis. There's no immediate cause for concern if the symptoms have been present for just a few days and if they respond to home treatment. If the symptoms have been present for longer, recur frequently, or feel particularly severe, then contact your GP surgery and make an appointment to see the doctor.