While sinus infections are a common problem many people experience at some point in their lives, chronic sinusitis differs. Defined by chronic inflammation of the sinuses, chronic sinusitis can last up to three months for some, while it can linger for years for others.
Here's everything you need to know about chronic sinusitis, getting diagnosed for it by a board-certified ENT physician, and the right treatment options for you.
What is Chronic Sinusitis?
Affecting approximately 12% of all U.S. adults, chronic sinusitis is swelling or inflammation of the tissues that line your sinuses for 12 weeks or more.
Accounting for nearly 2.7 million doctor visits each year, chronic sinusitis is a common medical condition caused by bacteria—primarily anaerobic, gram-negative bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus—or fungi.
What are the Causes of Chronic Sinusitis?
While acute sinusitis occurs due to viral infections, chronic sinusitis is brought on by infection with fungi or gram-negative bacteria.
In addition, you may be at a higher risk for developing chronic sinusitis if the following also occurs:
- Allergic rhinitis
- Cystic fibrosis
- Change in altitude
- Weakened immune system
- Abnormal sinus passages
- Deviated septum
- Nasal polyps
- The common cold, as well as recurrent viral infections
Chronic sinusitis is more common in adults but can also occur in children. The exact cause of chronic sinusitis is often difficult to determine. However, it is often due to a combination of factors.
What are the Symptoms of Chronic Sinusitis?
The symptoms of chronic sinusitis can vary, but they often include:
- Facial pain or pressure
- Nasal obstruction
- Difficulty breathing through the nose
- Decreased sense of smell
- Thick, yellow, or green discharge from the nose
- Discolored postnasal discharge
- Bad breath
How is Chronic Sinusitis Diagnosed?
A thorough physical examination by a board-certified ENT physician is integral to accurately diagnosing chronic sinusitis. During your exam, your doctor may observe the inside of your nasal passages to look for signs of polyps or nasal obstructions and signs of inflammation in your nasal passages. They may even tap over the areas of your sinus on your face to check for signs of swelling, pain and to locate an infection.
In addition, your doctor may also do the following:
- CT scan of your sinuses
- MRI of the sinuses—in the case of a nasal obstruction or fungal infection
- Nasal endoscopy
- Nasal culture—in the case of bacterial or fungal infections
- Allergy testing
- Blood tests
- Ciliary function test
Is Treatment for Chronic Sinusitis Right for You?
If you've been experiencing symptoms of sinusitis for three months or more, seeing a certified doctor is the right way to go.
In addition to accurately diagnosing your condition and determining its cause, you'll be able to get a treatment plan that's individualized for you and your symptoms.
Chronic Sinusitis Treatments are Safe When Performed by a Board-Certified ENT Doctor
Chronic sinusitis may be difficult to treat, but several options are available. The most important thing is to see a doctor if you think you might have chronic sinusitis. Your doctor can help determine the cause of your chronic sinusitis and recommend the best treatment. Treatment options for chronic sinusitis include:
- Medications such as nasal corticosteroids, antibiotics, or antihistamines
Depending on the cause of your chronic sinusitis, this can reduce swelling and pain and treat the infection's root cause.
- Sinus Dilation
If medicines do not work for you, your ENT may recommend a 60-minute in-office dilation to open the natural drainage pathways of your sinuses.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove nose blockages or repair structural problems. The most common surgical procedure is called endoscopic sinus surgery.
Chronic sinusitis can be a complex condition to live with, but the good news is that treatment options are available. With the help of a doctor, you can find the best treatment for your situation. With proper treatment, chronic sinusitis does not have to control your life.