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Sinus Infection: signs, symptoms & more

What is a sinus infection?

Sinuses are the hollow spaces within the bones that surround the nose, producing mucous that drains into the nose. Sinus infection or sinusitis refers to the inflammation and pain of the nasal passage and sinuses. Different forms of sinusitis include:

  • Acute sinusitis – An acute sinus infection has a sudden onset with symptoms resembling common cold – stuffy, runny nose and facial pain. The infection generally begins to clear up within a week or may last longer.
  • Chronic sinusitis – This condition is characterized by inflammation of the sinuses that last anywhere between four to twelve weeks.
  • Recurrent sinusitis – People suffering numerous sinusitis attacks in a year are said to have recurrent sinusitis.

What are the causes of the disorder?

The most common cause of sinus infections is viruses, but some may be a result of bacterial infection. Apart from bacterial and viral infection, other causes of sinusitis include:

  • Allergens and pollutants that irritate the sinuses
  • Weakened immune system
  • Structural problems in the nasal cavity

Chronic sinusitis could result from respiratory tract infections, allergies and nasal polyps or tumours.

What one needs to know about symptoms or signs?

Acute sinus infections are characterised by the following symptoms:

  • Stuffy nose, nasal discharge
  • Facial pressure or pain
  • Loss of sense of smell

Symptoms of chronic sinusitis include:

  • Nasal blockage
  • Fullness of face and congestion
  •  Nasal discharge
  • Pus in the nasal cavity

Additionally, patients with acute/chronic sinusitis may also experience headaches, bad breath, fatigue and fever.

Which specialist should be consulted in case of signs and symptoms?

People experiencing the above symptoms should consult an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, also known as an otolaryngologist.

What are the screening tests and investigations done to confirm or rule out the disorder?

Screening for sinus infections is done through the following methods:

  • Physical exam – The ENT specialist examines the nasal passages and throat to look for tenderness, inflammation, fluid or even nasal polyps.
  • Nasal endoscopy – An endoscope, which is a thin, flexible lighted tube, is inserted through the nose to inspect the sinuses.
  • Imaging tests – Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) can provide detailed images of the nasal passage and sinuses.
  • Tests for allergy detection – The doctor may suggest an allergy skin test to check if the sinus infection is brought upon by an allergy.
  • Sinus and nasal cultures – In case the sinusitis worsens or in case of chronic cases, tissue cultures are generated to identify the causal bacteria.

What treatment modalities are available for management of the disorder?

Treatment options vary with the severity of the condition. Common treatment methods for acute and chronic sinusitis include:

  • Painkillers
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) decongestants
  • Nasal inhalation
  • Warm compresses
  • Saline nose drops
  • Antibiotics (Antibiotics are only effective in treating bacterial sinusitis, and considering that majority of sinus infections are viral, overuse of antibiotics is fairly common.)

Sinusitis caused by allergies can be treated with an antihistamine, while immunoglobulin (antibodies) is used in cases of sinusitis caused by a weakened immune system.

Surgery – Surgery might be needed if antibiotics and other treatments fail to cure the condition, or if a nasal polyp or structural abnormality obstructs sinus drainage. Surgery cost for Sinus vary Hospital to Hospital. Surgery is carried out under local or general anaesthesia, and patients may return to normal activities within a week.

What are the known complications in the management of the disorder?

Delaying treatment can use pain or lead to infection of the bone, brain abscess or meningitis.

What precautions or steps are necessary to stay healthy and happy during the treatment?

OTC medicines and sprays must be used in doses as recommended, and should not be given to young children.

How can the disorder be prevented from happening or recurring?

  • Staying up-to-date with immunizations
  • Practising good hand hygiene
  • Avoiding contact with people with colds or respiratory infections