Also known as: sinus infection, sinus disease.

What is sinusitis?

Sinuses are air-filled cavities. There are four located in the skull; behind the cheeks of the face (maxillary; present at birth), around the bridge of the nose (ethmoid; present at birth), forehead (frontal; develops around 7 years of age), and deep in the face behind the nose (sphenoid; develops during adolescence). When these cavities become infected, the condition is known as sinusitis. Sinusitis may be acute (symptoms less than 1 week), subacute (symptoms last 4-12 weeks), chronic (symptoms last for more than 8 weeks), or recurrent (3 or more acute sinus infections in one year).

What causes sinusitis?

Sinusitis occurs most frequently (about 5-13%) after an upper respiratory tract infection (caused by either a virus, bacteria or fungus). This causes an inflammation and swelling of the nasal passages that blocks the openings of the sinus which prevents its drainage and enhances bacterial growth in the sinus. Blockage of sinus ducts may also result from allergies which can similarly cause swelling, blockage and infection.

A number of other conditions increase the risk of sinusitis developing. These include; structural or anatomic abnormalities of the nose and/or palate, large tonsils, injury to the nose, foreign objects stuck in the nose, gastrointestinal reflux disease, tooth infections, immune deficiencies and disorders of the hair-like structures (cilia) which enhance movement of mucous out the sinuses.

What are the symptoms of sinusitis?

Acute sinusitis often presents with symptoms of the common cold which continue for more than 7-10 days, cough, headache, earache and irritability. A severe infection may in addition have a pus coming from the nose, a high fever and swelling around the eyes. In approximately 40% of uncomplicated sinusitis in children it resolves by itself. Like a cold, people with sinusitis often have a runny or congested nose, cough, fever and fatigue.

What are sinusitis care options?

It’s important to see a doctor if what seems like a cold lasts for a week or longer. Sinusitis is often treated with antibiotics, saline irrigation, nasal steroids (a short course of systemic steroids may be helpful in children with allergies), decongestants and antihistamines. Depending on the underlying cause, other medical and/or surgical treatments may be required.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: October 03, 2019 03:39 PM