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.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
You catch a whiff of a co-worker's new fragrance, and within minutes, you have a whopper of a headache.
You pop open that new bottle of dish-washing liquid, and by the time you've washed the pots and pans, your hands and arms are covered in hives.
You walk into a friend's home and smell freshly baked pumpkin pie. Only after you start sneezing uncontrollably and feeling dizzy, weak, and sick to your stomach do you learn she hasn't been baking --...
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 several 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.