Whether it's acute or chronic, sinusitis is painful and wearying. It's common too: every year, it affects 37 million people in the U.S. and costs us $5.7 billion.
But despite its pervasiveness, it's also widely misunderstood. Many people with sinusitis wind up with the wrong diagnosis or use treatments that aren't likely to help. So before you run to the drugstore, here's what you need to know about tackling sinusitis.
Allergies affect more than 50 million people in the United States -- the poor souls who sniffle, sneeze, and get all clogged up when face to face with the allergen (or allergens) that set them off.
For many, allergies are seasonal and mild, requiring nothing more than getting extra tissue or taking a decongestant occasionally. For others, the allergy is to a known food, and as long as they avoid the food, no problem.
But for legions of others adults, allergies are so severe it interferes with...
The sinuses are small cavities in the skull that are normally filled with air. They produce mucus, which helps keep the nasal passages clear of allergens and pollutants.
Sinusitis is an inflammation of the tissue that lines these cavities. In some cases, this swelling blocks off the sinuses, trapping mucus and air inside them. This can cause pain and pressure; sometimes, it can lead to bacterial infection. There are two basic types of sinusitis.
Acute sinusitis lasts up to four weeks.
Chronic sinusitis lasts more than twelve weeks and can linger for years. The cause of chronic sinusitis can be hard to pin down -- and hard to treat.
The initial inflammation of sinusitis might be initially triggered by a cold or allergies. In people who have compromised immune systems, sinusitis can be caused by fungus. Sometimes, chronic sinusitis results from defects in the structure of the nasal passages – or a growth like a nasal polyp – which can block the sinuses and prevent them from draining normally.
The symptoms of acute and chronic sinusitis are similar:
Facial pressure and pain
Thick discolored mucus
The good news is that, regardless of the type of sinusitis, treatments can help. The key is to figure out what's really causing the underlying problem. For instance, if your case of sinusitis is caused by allergies, decongestants alone will probably not help much.
If you have sinusitis symptoms for more than a couple of days, check in with your doctor. With a good exam -- and sometimes imaging tests, like X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs -- you may be able to figure out exactly what's causing the problem.
Often, the best sinusitis treatment is a combination of different approaches -- typically medication combined with self-care.