If you have ever said, "My sinuses are killing me", you likely had sinusitis – an inflammation of the sinus cavities. This inflammation, and increased mucus caused by a cold, the flu, or allergies, can lead to a sinus infection.
Below you can learn more about: What Is Sinusitis, What Causes Sinusitis, What Are The Symptoms Of Sinusitis, How To Treat Sinusitis, How To Prevent Sinusitis, and What Is Nasal/Sinus Irrigation.
What Is Sinusitis?
The suffix "itis" in medical terms refers to an inflammation, so sinusitis is the inflammation of the sinuses, the four pairs of hollow openings around the eyes and nose.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), "the sinuses open into the nasal cavity and are lined with cells that make mucus to keep the nose from drying out during breathing and to trap unwanted materials so that they do not reach the lungs."
What Causes Sinusitis?
When the sinus openings become blocked or too much mucus builds up, bacteria and other germs can grow more easily and can lead to a sinus infection. Inflammation and swelling result in the buildup of pressure and subsequent pain associated with sinusitis. The Infectious Diseases Society of America (ISDA) says, however, that "The vast majority (90-98%) of sinus infections are caused by viruses," not bacteria, and "should not be treated with antibiotics." Some common causes of a sinus infection include:
- Allergies and colds that produce too much mucus and block the sinus openings
- Pollutants - airborne chemicals or irritants, including tobacco smoke
- Fungal infections
- Structural problems within the nasal cavity
What Are The Symptoms Of Sinusitis?
The main symptom of sinusitis is pain over the eyebrows or under the eyes, and a feeling of fullness in the face. This may be accompanied by thick mucus that is yellow or green in color and often results in a cough due to post-nasal drip.
It can be difficult to tell if you have allergies, a cold, or sinusitis, as the nose is stuffy and congested with all three. A cold usually lasts a week to 10 days and goes away without treatment. If a cold lingers past that or starts to get worse around day 7, the sinuses may have become infected.
Sometimes a cold is the beginning, and leads to blockage in the sinuses. The blockage causes air and mucus to become trapped within the sinuses that may cause pain and thickened mucus.
How To Treat Sinusitis
Often you can get rid of sinusitis on your own or find relief until the infection runs its course with home remedies like these:
- Use a humidifier if the air in your home is dry to moisten sinuses. Be sure the humidifier stays clean and free of mold.
- Reduce stress and eat healthy to help strengthen the immune system.
- Drink plenty of fluids to keep nasal secretions thin.
- Use nasal/sinus irrigation to wash out debris, including allergens and pollutants.
- Inhale steam from a bowl of hot water (cover your head and the bowl with a towel), from a steamy shower, or a steam-producing machine to help loosen mucous and clear sinuses.
- Use natural nasal sprays to help keep the nasal passages moist and to help remove infectious agents. Natural nasal sprays are non-addictive and can be used several times a day. Your doctor may also recommend steroid nasal sprays to be used on a limited basis, probably for no more than three days.
When you have sinusitis, avoid flying, as the change in pressure can increase the pain. Some health experts recommend using decongestant nose drops or nasal sprays before a flight to help reduce this problem. Bending forward with your head down can also increase pain and should be avoided.
Also, avoid temperature extremes and sudden changes in temperature that can worsen symptoms. Wearing a cold weather mask to warm the air you breathe in winter can help prevent additional pain.
Although the remedies above can help relieve pain, you may require a visit to the doctor to eliminate infection. The Mayo Clinic recommends calling your physician if self-care methods such as the ones above have not improved your symptoms within a few days or if your symptoms worsen, if you have a persistent fever, or if you have a history of sinusitis.
How To Prevent Sinusitis
It is important to keep sinuses moist and mucus flowing normally to prevent sinusitis. Also, stay away from allergy triggers and germs that can cause sinusitis. NIAID recommends that "if you haven't been tested for allergies and you are getting frequent sinus infections, ask your healthcare professional to give you an allergy evaluation or refer you to an allergy specialist."
Some other ways to prevent sinusitis are:
- Practice good hand hygiene to eliminate bacteria.
- Avoid close contact with people who have colds or other upper respiratory infections.
- Avoid smoke and pollutants.
- Use a clean humidifier to moisten the air at home.
- Avoid exposure to substances to which you are allergic, and treat allergies quickly and appropriately.
- Drink plenty of fluids to increase moisture in your body.
What Is Nasal/Sinus Irrigation?
Nasal/sinus irrigation rinses particles out of your nose and sinuses before they cause irritation and possible infection. Nasal and sinus irrigation is also beneficial to rinse out mucus and relieve inflammation, swelling, and discomfort.
The two most widely recommended types of nasal irrigation are gravity-based and positive pressure. Both types of nasal/sinus irrigation are effective. Which one you choose is really a matter of personal preference.
Gravity-based irrigation allows saline water to flow naturally in one nostril and out the other nostril with the head tilted sideways. This is an ancient method from Indian ayurvedic medicine from which the name neti pot is derived.
Positive pressure irrigation gives you more control over the water flow as you apply pressure by some method to send the water up into your nostril and through your sinuses to cleanse away mucous. Research has shown this method to be more effective. There are also mechanized methods of positive pressure irrigation that send pulsing streams of water into your nose and sinuses in a motion that mimics the natural motion of the cilia.
There are several actions you can take that will both prevent and treat sinusitis, such as inhaling steam, using nasal sprays, irrigation of nasal passages and sinus cavities, and keeping the air you breathe moist. When you do get a sinus infection, try home remedies first, but go to the doctor if your symptoms are not improving after a few days.