Sinusitis Simplified

By Margaret Cronin, MD - Now Care

Sinusitis is a term often thought to always mean an infection of the sinuses requiring antibiotic treatment. This is not true. Sinusitis means inflammation of the lining of the sinuses. This inflammation can come from many different things. It can come from allergies, irritation, viral infection, bacterial infection, fungal infection and immune system disorders. 

Sometimes the inflammation/swelling can cause fluid buildup and blockage of the sinuses. This can lead to pressure buildup and sometimes pain. Blockages can also come from deviated septums or nasal polyps which can lead to fluid buildup and other possible symptoms.

Sinusitis cases vary in length. Acute cases can last less than four weeks while others considered subacute can last 4-8 weeks. Some individuals have a chronic case that can last for more than eight weeks. People may also have recurrent sinusitis and experience the illness several times a year. Each year, millions of people seek help for sinusitis, but many do not because their symptoms resolve without formal medical treatment.  

Acute sinusitis has multiple symptoms including: 

Nasal stuffiness; nasal drainage and/or post-nasal drip; facial pain; headaches; toothaches in upper teeth; cough; fever; diminished sense of smell; fatigue; ear pain; sore throat; clear, white, yellow, green or brown nasal discharge; and bloody nasal discharge.

Colored mucus does not mean antibiotics are needed, and acute sinusitis usually resolves with simple treatment. If sinusitis is caused by allergies, treatment with antihistamines and/or a steroid nasal spray is often enough. If symptoms are severe or persist, other allergy treatments can be considered. Using oral Decongestants (for 3-5 days), saline sinus rinses and sometimes steroid nasal sprays (such as Flonase, Nasacort or Rhinocort) can help reduce symptoms of viral sinusitis. These medications can also help with allergy-induced symptoms. 

Individuals should drink plenty of fluids to help keep the nasal mucus thinner. Expectorants such as guaifenesin can thin the secretions and improve symptoms for some people as well. For pain, an over-the-counter pain medicine such as acetaminophen may be helpful. A steamy shower may also help ease symptoms. Bacterial sinus infections are not always treated with antibiotics since they often resolve on their own. Like viral infections, symptomatic treatment is suggested.  If an individual has symptoms of a bacterial sinus infection for 10 days or more, then antibiotics may be prescribed. If the sinusitis is due to a fungus (this is not common), antifungal medicines are used.

Remember, if you are taking prescription medications, you should check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if over-the-counter medicines are safe to take with your current regimen. Also, people with heart disease, high blood pressure or a stroke history should avoid decongestants (both oral and
topical). Many people try topical decongestants (nasal sprays such as Afrin or oxymetazoline), but these should never be used for more than 2-3 days because they can cause congestion and worsen symptoms. 

Next time you have symptoms of sinusitis, try the simple measures mentioned here and give your body some time to heal on its own. For more information on sinusitis you can check out this link: