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Sinusitis is an inflammation of the paranasal sinuses, which may or may not be as a result of infection, from bacterial, fungal, viral, allergic or autoimmune issues.

Newer classifications of sinusitis refer to it as rhinosinusitis, taking into account the thought that inflammation of the sinuses cannot occur without some inflammation of the nose as well (rhinitis).


By location

There are several paired paranasal sinuses, including the frontal, ethmoid, maxillary and sphenoid sinuses. The ethmoid sinuses can also be further broken down into anterior and posterior, the division of which is defined as the basal lamella of the middle turbinate. In addition to the acuity of disease, discussed below, sinusitis can be classified by the sinus cavity which it affects:

  • Maxillary sinusitis - can cause pain or pressure in the maxillary (cheek) area (eg. toothache, headache).
  • Frontal sinusitis - can cause pain or pressure in the frontal sinus cavity (located behind/above eyes), headache.
  • Ethmoid sinusitis - can cause pain or pressure pain between and/or behind eyes, headache.
  • Sphenoid sinusitis - can cause pain or pressure behind the eyes, but often refers to the vertex of the head.

Recent theories of the sinusitis indicate that it often occurs as part of a spectrum of diseases that affect the respiratory tract (ie. - the "one airway" theory) and is often linked to asthma. All forms of sinusitis may either result in, or be a part of, a generalized inflammation of the airway so other airway symptoms such as cough may be associated with it. One can get a sinus infection by 'making out' or open mouth kissing.[citation needed]

Acute vs. chronic

Sinusitis can be acute (going on less than four weeks), subacute (4-12 weeks) or chronic (going on for 12 weeks or more).

All three types of sinusitis have similar symptoms, and are thus often difficult to distinguish.

Acute sinusitis

Acute sinusitis is usually precipitated by an earlier upper respiratory tract infection, generally of viral origin. Virally damaged surface tissues are then colonized by bacteria, most commonly Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Moraxella catarrhalis and Staphylococcus aureus. Other bacterial pathogens include other streptococci species, anaerobic bacteria and, less commonly, gram negative bacteria. Another possible cause of sinusitis can be dental problems that affect the maxillary sinus. Acute episodes of sinusitis can also result from fungal invasion. These infections are most often seen in patients with diabetes or other immune deficiencies (such as AIDS or transplant patients on anti-rejection medications) and can be life threatening.

Chronic sinusitis

Chronic sinusitis is a complicated spectrum of diseases that share chronic inflammation of the sinuses in common. The causes are multifactorial and may include allergy, environmental factors such as dust or pollution, bacterial infection, and/or fungus (either allergic, infective or reactive). Non allergic factors such as Vasomotor rhinitis can also cause chronic sinus problems.

Symptoms include: Nasal congestion; facial pain; headache; fever; general malaise; thick green or yellow discharge; feeling of facial 'fullness' worsening on bending over; aching teeth.

In a small number of cases, chronic maxillary sinusitis can also be brought on by the spreading of bacteria from a dental infection.

A more recent, and still debated, development in chronic sinusitis is the role that fungus may play. Fungus can be found in the nasal cavities and sinuses of most patients with sinusitis, but can also be found in healthy people as well. It remains unclear if fungus is a definite factor in the development of chronic sinusitis and if it is, what the difference may be between those who develop the disease and those who do not.


Factors which may predispose to developing sinusitis include: allergies; structural problems such as, for example, a deviated septum, small sinus ostia; smoking; nasal polyps; carrying the cystic fibrosis gene (research is still tentative); prior bouts of sinusitis as each instance may result in increased inflammation of the nasal or sinus mucosa and potentially further narrow the openings.

When imaging techniques are required for diagnosis CT scanning is the method of choice. If allergies are suspected, allergy testing may be performed.


Therapeutic measures range from the medicinal to the traditional and may include nasal irrigation or jala neti using a warm saline solution, analgesics (such as aspirin, paracetamol (acetaminophen) or ibuprofen), hot drinks including tea and chicken soup, inhaling steam, over-the-counter decongestants and nasal sprays, and getting plenty of rest. If sinusitis doesn't improve within 48 hours, or is causing significant pain, one should see a doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics or nasal steroids. If the recommended doses and duration of antibiotic treatment(s) are ineffective, one should reconsult a doctor; who may suggest further treatment by a specialist.

For chronic or recurring sinusitis, referral to an otolaryngologist is indicated for more specialist assessment and treatment, which may include nasal surgery.

A relatively recent advance in the treatment of sinusitis is a type of surgery called FESS - functional endoscopic sinus surgery, whereby normal clearance from the sinuses is restored by removing the anatomical and pathological obstructive variations that predispose to sinusitis. This replaces prior open techniques requiring facial or oral incisions and refocuses the technique to the natural openings of the sinuses instead of promoting drainage by gravity, the idea upon which the less effective Caldwell-Luc surgery was based.

Another recently developed treatment is Balloon Sinuplasty. This method, similar to balloon angioplasty used to "unclog" arteries of the heart, utilizes balloons in an attempt to expand the openings of the sinuses in a less invasive manner. Its final role in the treatment of sinus disease is still under debate but appears promising.

Another treatment option is Coblation which is a recent technique for removing and treating tissue performed at a lower temperatures (40C to 70C).

Based on the recent theories on the role that fungus may play in the development of chronic sinusitis, newer medical therapies include topical nasal applications of antifungal agents. Much of the original research indicating fungus took place at the Mayo Clinic and they have since patented this treatment option. Although there are some licensing battles taking place over these drugs as a result of the patent, they are currently available for other uses and therefore can be compounded by pharmacies or even by the patient.

Nasal irrigation and flush promotes sinus cavity health, and patients with chronic sinusitis including symptoms of facial pain, headache, halitosis, cough, anterior rhinorrhea (watery discharge) and nasal congestion found nasal irrigation to be "just as effective at treating these symptoms as the drug therapies." In other studies, "daily hypertonic saline nasal irrigation improves sinus-related quality of life, decreases symptoms, and decreases medication use in patients with frequent sinusitis," and is "recommended as an effective adjunctive treatment of chronic sinonasal symptoms."


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