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Sinus Problems

December 2012

SinusitisMany people suffer from a variety of problems with their sinuses, and some are continually affected. However, sympathy can sometimes be minimal as many people consider sinus problems as just a glorified name for a cold.

This isn’t the case at all. Sinuses are actually empty little spaces hidden in the bones behind your face. We have eight sinuses in all, two in the forehead, two behind each eye, two behind each cheekbone and two within the bones between the eyes. The sinuses produce a mucus to help keep the nose moist and they also help to warm air as you breathe in. They can also affect the depth and tone of your voice - blocked up sinuses can affect how you speak.

Interestingly, some doctors think that as we age, our likelihood of suffering from sinusitis becomes more probable. This is because our nose continues to grow and get a little longer as we age, and weakening cartilage can allow the tip to droop slightly. This can affect the airflow which in turn can lead to an obstruction and irritate the lining of the sinuses.

However, the most common problem is when some sort of infection gets into the sinus which can cause inflammation within the cavity or in some cases can even start to grow there. This can cause the sinus to block, the mucus can’t drain out and the pressure can cause aches and quite severe pain. Once the infection is overcome naturally or is treated, then the sinus will begin to drain - usually through the nasal passages into the throat or out through the nostrils.

The most common way to get an infection in the sinuses is from a cold or from flu. Both these are caused by viruses which can spread into the sinuses; however sometimes bacteria can add on to an infection caused by a virus which makes the problem worse and longer lasting.

There are other causes of sinus problems; infections can be spread from infected teeth; allergies can cause swelling on the tissues on the inside lining of the nose and this can block the drainage channels from the sinus which makes them more susceptible to infection. People with a poor immune system or who have been having chemotherapy can be more susceptible as well.

Usually sinusitis is easy to diagnose. When it is caused by a viral infection, then the symptoms are mainly pain; the infected area can become tender and can cause a throbbing ache which is worse if you bend your head forward. There can also be a feeling of pressure inside the head or ears. If bacteria is the cause, then it is likely that the symptoms will be more severe, will continue to get worse rather than better, and there can be a temperature or fever. There can also be a green or yellow discharge from the nose. Just occasionally a doctor may order an xray or scan to check exactly what is happening. In rare occasions this can identify specific physical rather than infection problems such as a naturally narrow sinus which prevents adequate drainage.

However, in most cases the treatment is straightforward. Antibiotics do not work against viruses, and so if the sinusitis is caused by a virus, it is more likely you will be advised on the best way to relieve the symptoms and also to boost your natural immune system to that you can get over the virus naturally.

Painkillers such as Paracetamol can be useful and warm face packs over the sinuses can help relieve the pain. Sometimes just taking a hot shower can help.

If it is thought there is a bacterial infection, then antibiotics may be prescribed plus other remedies to relieve the symptoms.

For medical information about causes, symptoms and treatments read about Sinusitis on NHS Direct


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