The sinuses are cavities, or air-filled chambers, near the nasal passage. The sinuses make mucus, which is the fluid that cleans bacteria and other particles out of the air we breathe. 

Sinusitis is inflammation or infection of the sinuses near the nose. Sinusitis may occur after a cold or allergic inflammation. There are four types of sinusitis:

  • Acute: Symptoms last less than four weeks and get better with treatment
  • Subacute: Symptoms last more than 4 weeks but less than 12 weeks
  • Chronic: Symptoms last longer than 12 weeks
  • Recurrent: Four or more episodes of acute sinusitis in a year

Symptoms of Sinusitis

The symptoms of sinusitis vary with age but commonly include the following:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Thick, discolored nasal drainage
  • Postnasal drainage (down the back of the throat)
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Pain or soreness over sinuses
  • Fever
  • Loss of smell

Symptoms of sinusitis may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always consult a doctor for a diagnosis.

Causes of Sinusitis

When secretions are blocked, bacteria can grow, which leads to a sinus infection, or sinusitis. Sometimes a sinus infection happens after a cold. The cold inflames the nasal passages, which can block the opening of the paranasal sinuses, leading to infection. Allergies can also cause sinusitis because of the swelling of the nasal tissue and increased production of mucus. 

Other conditions that can lead to sinusitis include:

  • Abnormalities in the structure of the nose
  • Enlarged adenoids
  • Diving and swimming
  • Infections from a tooth
  • Nose injury
  • Foreign objects that are stuck in the nose
  • Secondhand smoke

Diagnosing Sinusitis

Your doctor can usually diagnose sinusitis based on your symptoms and a physical exam. In some situations, additional tests may be performed to confirm the diagnosis. These may include:

  • Nasal endoscopy (looking through the nose with a tiny scope)
  • Cultures from the sinuses
  • Sinus x-rays
  • Sinus CT or CAT scan

Treatment for Sinusitis

Your doctor will work with you to determine the best treatment plan based on factors such as your age, overall health, and medical history. 

If your symptoms don’t improve on their own, treatment for sinusitis may include:

  • Antibiotics (if your sinuses are infected with bacteria)
  • Allergy medicines (to reduce swelling)
  • Nasal sprays or rinses

If your sinusitis recurs, your doctor may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist for testing and treatment.

Treatment for chronic sinusitis may include:

  • At-home care (such as nasal saline)
  • Antibiotics (if a bacterial infection is believed to be the cause)
  • Intranasal corticosteroid sprays
  • Other medicines (nasal sprays with antihistamines and decongestants, saline sprays or drops, or expectorants)
  • Allergy shots (if you have nasal allergies)
  • Surgery

Why Choose Columbia

At Columbia Otolaryngology, our specialists are skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of sinusitis. As part of a leading academic medical center, our expert team draws on the best available therapies to personalize the right care plan for you. We have extensive experience effectively treating sinusitis and managing its symptoms so you can get back to enjoying your usual daily activities.