Sinusitis is the name given to inflammation of the sinuses. The sinuses are a series of air filled spaces within the face which open out into the nasal cavity. They are lined with a mucous membrane which produces mucus to keep the nose free from dirt and bacteria.

Causes of sinusitis

This is caused by an infection – viral, bacterial or fungal which causes the sinuses to become swollen and blocked by infected mucous membranes.

One example of a viral infection is the common cold which often causes sinusitis.

Other causes include:

  • Infected tooth
  • Secondary bacterial infection
  • Allergy, e.g. hayfever
  • Irritants such as smoke, disinfectants and pesticides
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Facial injury
  • Nasal polyp

The most common cause of sinusitis is a viral infection.

Symptoms of sinusitis

The most common symptom is that of pain and tenderness around the face and nose. This throbbing pain worsens when you eat or move your head.

Many people find that they have a build up of pressure within their sinuses which worsens when they lean forward or bend over to pick up something.

Other symptoms include:

  • Sore throat caused by infected mucus draining from the nasal cavity into the throat.
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Bad breath
  • Tiredness
  • Blocked ears
  • Loss of sense of smell and/or taste
  • Temperature
  • General feeling of being unwell or off colour

The pain you experience depends upon which part of your sinuses is affected. You have four pairs of sinuses which are:

  • Frontal sinuses: located either side of the forehead and above your eyes.
  • Maxillary sinuses: located in each cheekbone
  • Small ethmoid sinuses: located behind the bridge of the nose, between the eyes.
  • Sphenoid sinuses: located in the upper part of the nose, between the eyes.

So, if you have pain and swelling in your forehead and around your eyebrows then your frontal sinuses are infected.

But if you have pain and inflammation around your eyes or the sides of your nose then your ethmoid sinuses are infected.

One problem with pain around your jaw and teeth caused by maxillary sinusitis is that it may be mistaken for toothache.

If your sinusitis causes a pocket of infection (pus) to form around your eye socket which results in swollen eyelids then see your GP as soon as possible.

Treatment for sinusitis

Many people find that their sinusitis clears up by itself. Another option is to inhale steam from a bowl of hot water which may help to clear the infected nasal passages.

A nasal spray may help. Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen are also useful to ease any pain and reduce a high temperature.

They are available from your local pharmacist.

But if your symptoms persist or worsen then visit your GP.

Your GP will be able to diagnose sinusitis and prescribe a course of treatment. However, if your sinusitis is severe or warrants further investigation then he/she will refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist for a series of tests.

These will include X-rays and a CT scan. You may also undergo a nasal endoscopy which involves the insertion of a small tube with a camera mounted at the other end which enables the specialist to have a detailed look at your sinuses.

If your sinusitis is caused by a bacterial infection then antibiotics will be prescribed. Other options include prescription only nasal sprays and mild steroids.

If none of these work or you experience repeated and chronic episodes of sinusitis then surgery can help. This involves the surgeon washing out your sinuses and widening the drainage areas.

Alternatively he/she may remove a polyp or some other form of obstruction if that has been causing your sinusitis.

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