Sinus is a paired air space or cavity (pocket) that is found in the head (cranial) bones. Sinuses are also called paranasal sinuses and are connected to our nose on the skull’s facial part from where the air passes and mucus drains.
Every human being has 4 paired sinus cavities —ethmoid, frontal, maxillary and the sphenoid. These cavities differ according to their location in our skull’s facial bones. The ethmoid sinuses are the ones between our eyes. They are located just behind the nose’s bridge and at the root of our nose between both eyes. These ethmoid sinuses are present when we are born and grow with us. When they get inflamed, the condition is called as ethmoiditis.
Frontal sinuses (forehead) are the cavities located just above our eyes. They are present in the region of our forehead. These develop only when we are about 7 years of age. Their inflammation leads to a condition called frontal sinusitis. Maxillary sinuses are located in the cheekbones on any side of our nostrils. These too are congenital and grow as we do. If they get inflamed, it is due to bacterial activity, viruses and various other irritants. The condition is called as antritis. Lastly, sphenoid sinuses are the ones present behind our eyes. These cavities are found deeper in our skull behind ethmoid sinuses and the eyes. These develop during our adolescence. When they get inflamed, the condition is called as sphenoiditis. These sinus cavities can either get inflamed collectively or individually.
Every sinus cavity has an ostium (opening) that opens into our nasal passages for easy and free exchange of mucus and air. These mucus linings are equipped with ciliated epithelium (those cells that have fine hairs). These move the dirty mucus away from our sinus cavities that drains into our nasal passages. Most people confuse sinuses with sinusitis, which is a condition taking place when the sinuses become infected and inflamed.
The sinus cavities are a crucial part of our body system. They are important for us as they lighten our skull’s weight and that is precisely why some people feel heavy, tired and sleepy when they have a sinus attack. Sinus cavities are important also because they lend resonance to our voice; moisten and filter the air we breathe in besides removing all unwanted air and dust particles.
The opening of the sinuses can be affected by any infection in our nasal passage that may cause its inflammation. If the ostium gets blocked, all of mucus and air secretions would get collected causing immense pressure on walls of our sinus cavities. This is what causes pain during a sinus attack. As mucus is a thriving medium for bacteria to grow, it has to be cleared quickly in order to prevent bacterial growth and hence any abscess formation. If there is swelling in the nasal passage that extends to the sinuses’ ostium, a vacuum is created as no air can enter inside. This causes our mucus membranes to get tugged away from bones they are lining with and produce excruciating pain.
This is to be understood that sinus can be easily caused due to allergies, colds, problems in the immune system problems or any structural problems in the nasal cavities. The bacterial sinus attack is most probable when one is suffering from an allergy attack or cold as there is excessive mucus production. This causes stagnant mucus to keep building up in one’s sinuses and thereby helps the bacteria to breed. If this is left undiagnosed or untreated, it can lead to serious complications with the eyes, middle ear and nose.
The diagnosis of a sinus headache is a simple procedure. The physician usually asks for the patient’s medical history and then performs a physical test using a CT scan or an X-Ray to see if there is any swelling in the sinus cavities. If he sees any, he suggests a remedial step based on the amount of swelling and its location.
Whenever there is a sinus attack, physicians advise the patients to try staying as much indoors as possible. The room where the patient is staying should have an even temperature. If the room is over heated or dry, it will lead to further worsening of the patient’s fever and nasal congestion. In such cases, steam inhalators are the best options that provide some relief to the patient. The drugs prescribed to relieve the headache usually include paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen/ acetaminophen. If the nasal passage is badly congested and there is no relief, patients are prescribed some nasal decongestants to help clear the nose of the stagnant mucus. Broad spectrum antibiotics may also be given in such serious cases. In case of allergies, anti- histamines are given. If the problem still persists, patients might have to undergo a minor surgery as well.
To cope with sinus attacks at home, one should try and combat the underlying factors like colds, flu and allergies that trigger the attacks as soon as the feel the symptoms are beginning to appear. If the symptoms are curtailed at the very outset, impact of the sinus attack can be curbed to a great extent. Making use of nasal or oral decongestants before travelling at high altitudes, flying, or swimming in deep waters may prove helpful. One can also consider using humidifiers at home if they feel the air at home is dry.
One may also try some easy home remedies like sniffing a handkerchief dipped in some eucalyptus oil periodically, consuming spinach and carrot juice regularly, using pungent oils for various purposes, doing simple yoga and other recommended exercise. Blowing of one nostril at a time and pressing the other with index finger is another easy remedy to keep the nasal passage clean and inflammation-free.