Most people have no idea about the sheer misery and pain that a person with sinusitis undergoes. It is often mistaken for a severe form of the common cold. Nothing can be further from the truth. Sinusitis can be acute (lasting about 3 weeks), chronic (lasts 3 - 8 weeks but can also continue for months, even years) or recurrent (which means several acute attacks in a year). There are four pairs of sinuses located within the skull and the bones of the head which surround the nose. Free exchange of air and mucus is meant to take place. But any infection, allergy or an immune reaction that causes a swelling in the nose can affect the sinuses also. When the air gets trapped within the sinus walls it can, along with pus and other such secretions, cause intense pain. When air is prevented from entering the sinus by a swollen membrane at the opening, again, the vacuum thus created can also cause intense pain.
If you get up with a severe headache in the morning and pain over your forehead, it is the frontal sinuses that are inflamed.
If it is your upper jaw and teeth that are aching, and if your cheeks are tender, then it is an infection in the maxillary sinuses.
If you find a swelling in the tissues around your eyelids and eyes along with pain between your eyes, it is the ethmoid sinuses which are inflamed. This will cause tenderness in the sides of your nose and may result in loss of smell along with a stuffy nose.
If you suffer from earache, pain in the neck region and in the top of your head, it is the sphenoid sinuses that are affected though this is a less frequent occurrence. Sometimes, there is fever and general overall pain - so it may not be too clear as to which of the sinuses are affected. Symptoms can also include weakness, fever, cough that seems to increase when you lie down at night, runny nose or nasal congestion. There can also be a post nasal drip or a constant draining of mucus at the back of your throat. Though a complication of brain infection can occur, it is not too common.
Causes and diagnosis
In most cases, acute sinusitis begins with a common cold caused by a virus attack. The trapped air and mucus helps bacteria to multiply rapidly and this invades the sinuses causing acute infection. Allergic reactions to pollen, dust etc or even asthma can trigger off acute sinusitis.
A physical examination aided by xrays by your doctor will help him diagnose sinusitis which might initially have symptoms of common cold.
For cases of acute sinusitis, you may be advised to take decongestants, antibiotics if necessary to control any bacterial infection and pain relievers if you have acute pain. Avoid use of nasal sprays and nose drops as these may lead to more congestion and swelling instead. If you are already an asthma patient, you need to get in touch with your doctor immediately as the asthma might worsen.
In the case of chronic sinusitis, the patient might have to be on antibiotics for a much longer period. Sometimes a steroid nasal spray is prescribed to reduce the inflammation. Try to avoid oral steroids as they can have bad side effects - they should only be taken when all other medicines have failed to help. Home remedies like inhalation or sipping hot water can soothe the inflamed sinuses. But again, only as a temporary measure. You can also apply gentle heat over the inflamed area. In most cases of chronic sinusitis, surgery definitely helps and may even be the only alternative. An endoscopic sinus surgery is quite common and this is less invasive than the conventional sinus surgery. Complications in this type are also very rare. In this surgery, the natural sinus openings are enlarged and mucus drainage takes place.
How to prevent a sinus attack
There are ways of preventing acute sinusitis from degenerating into chronic sinusitis. Air conditioners provide an even temperature and the filters in the machine, help in removing allergens from the air. Cigarette smoke is harmful, so avoid passive smoking. Dust, mould, pollen etc can trigger off an upper respiratory infection. It is wise to have allergy tests done so that you can determine what triggers an attack. Alcohol consumption can also cause the nasal membranes to swell. Swimming in chlorinated water can definitely trigger an attack of sinusitis. Some people undergo sheer torture during air travel as the pressure builds up in the head and blocks the sinuses and also affects the middle ear by blocking the ear tubes. Doctors recommend the use of nose drops and inhalers before take off