If you have 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.
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. 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.
There are several things that 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 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.
- Nasal anti-inflammatory sprays.
- 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.
- 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.
If the sinuses are blocked, medications can’t get all the way up into the sinuses—they only get as far as the nose. When that’s the case, the sinuses may need to be surgically opened up to relieve inflammation and infection.
If you think you may be suffering from chronic rhinosinusitis, talk to your doctor, who may refer you to a specialist.