If you’ve ever had a sinus infection, you know how miserable it can
make you feel. Your nose is stuffy and congested, there’s pressure
and pain in your face and then there’s that mucus. This often happens
when you have a cold. The good news is that most sinus infections go away
in about two weeks with the help of decongestants, nasal sprays and other remedies.
But if you have sinus problems for three months or longer, you may have
chronic sinusitis, also called chronic rhinosinusitis.
“Chronic rhinosinusitis affects more than 11 million people in the
United States, and it can significantly impact someone’s life,” says
Christopher F. Thompson, MD, a board-certified otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) at
Dr. Thompson explains that the sinuses are essentially air pockets in the
bones of the face and head. They are lined with a thin layer of tissue
that generates a small amount of mucus to keep the sinuses lubricated
and flush away germs.
“Rhinosinusitis occurs when the sinus lining becomes infected or
swollen, creating extra mucus,” says Dr. Thompson, who is fellowship-trained
in complex sinus and endoscopic surgery. “The swollen lining may
also inhibit the drainage of mucus, which serves as a reservoir for bacteria.”
Symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis include:
- Nasal congestion or obstruction
- Mucus drainage or discharge
- Facial pressure or pain
- Reduced sense of smell
People with chronic rhinosinusitis may also have headaches, fatigue, postnasal
drip and difficulty sleeping, Dr. Thompson says.
Several things can make you more vulnerable to chronic rhinosinusitis,
including a genetic predisposition to recurrent sinus infections and nasal
polyps, and allergies to dust mites, dander and molds.
A doctor diagnoses chronic rhinosinusitis using a CT scan or nasal endoscopy—a
routine office procedure where a small, illuminated video camera is inserted
in the nose.
Fortunately, there’s a lot doctors can do to help you with your symptoms.
Your doctor may suggest:
Nasal irrigation with a saline solution. This can work well in removing irritants and sources
of inflammation from the nasal passages. Your doctor may recommend a syringe
or a neti pot.
- A nasal decongestant spray.
Oral steroids to reduce sinus inflammation, shrink nasal polyps, improve congestion
and relieve facial pressure. But, there’s a downside: “Long-term
use of oral steroids can have serious side effects—so we’re
always very careful when prescribing oral steroids,” Dr. Thompson says.
Antibiotics, which can help reduce bacterial sinus infections—and there are a
lot of options.
If your symptoms don’t get better with medications and other treatments,
your doctor may recommend surgery.