You might have a common cold but if it’s lasting for weeks with no relief, you could actually have sinusitis, which is also known as a sinus infection, a common condition. Your sinuses are cavities located in the bones that surround your nose and are joined with the nasal passages. When you have sinusitis, the sinuses become infected or inflamed. The infection can last for weeks or months and some people have recurring sinusitis throughout the year.
Sinusitis causes When the inside of the nose gets swollen, from a cold virus, for example, or an allergic reaction, it can lead to sinusitis. The swelling of the mucous membranes of the sinuses makes it difficult for the mucus to drain into the nose, so it may become a breeding ground for bacteria, leading to a painful sinus attack. Chronic sinus infections, which last for three months or more, may result from anatomic abnormalities, polyps or scarring in the nose or sinuses. Anyone with lowered immunity, such as people with HIV, is more likely to develop sinusitis.
Sinusitis symptoms Similar to a cold, you may have a stuffy nose and cough and feel tired and achy. You may also have a bad headache and feel a lot of pressure in your cheeks, forehead or eye area.
Sinusitis diagnosis/tests If you suspect you have sinusitis, see your doctor. She will ask you about your symptoms; examine your face and forehead and may order a sinus X-ray to confirm the diagnosis of a sinus infection. If you have asthma and you get a sinus infection, your asthma may worsen; contact your doctor. If you have chronic sinusitis, you may be referred to an otolaryngologist or ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist, who may perform an endoscopy, inserting a tube into the nose, or order a CAT (Computerized Axial Tomography) scan to diagnose the condition.
Sinusitis treatment Sinusitis often improves on its own. These treatment options may help bring relief:
• Medications Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics for bacterial infections and recommend decongestants and pain relievers to deal with the congestion and pain of sinusitis. Using saline sprays in the nose may also help drain the sinuses. If you have chronic sinus infections or have allergies, such as hay fever, nasal steroid sprays to reduce swelling in the nasal passages, may also be recommended.
• Surgery For people with chronic infections, sometimes surgery helps reduce nasal passage blockages or improves drainage from the sinuses.
Sinusitis prevention It may not be possible to totally prevent a sinus infection, but these strategies may help:
• Moisture Keep your nose moist using saline sprays and a humidifier in your home.
• Avoid irritants Minimize your exposure to cigarette smoke, chemical odours or any allergens.
• Swim smart Don’t swim in pools for long periods of time; chlorine can irritate the sinuses, and avoid diving which pushes water into the sinuses.