Issue No. 8
Sinus BlockDate: April 23, 2010
Chronic sinusitis is more than sniffles and stuffiness. For adults and kids, it can be a major headache
What is chronic sinusitis?
Chronic sinusitis is all about inflammation, says sinus and allergy specialist Sandra Lin, M.D. The cavities around the nasal passages inflame and swell, and that interferes with drainage, which then causes a buildup of nasal secretions. A lot of people get sinusitis—it’s one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions in the U.S., in kids and adults. But it’s chronic when it lasts more than 12 weeks or keeps returning.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of chronic sinusitis may vary from person to person, but the most common besides nasal congestion are thick, yellow or greenish discharge from the nose or down the back of the throat; coughing; pain, swelling or tenderness around the eyes, ears, nose or forehead; and upper-jaw achiness. You might also have sore throats, nausea or feel more fatigued than normal. Most concerning are other symptoms such as severe headache, swollen forehead, stiff neck and shortness of breath, which may be signs of a serious infection that require immediate attention from a doctor.
What causes chronic sinusitis?
Respiratory tract infections—bacterial or viral—are major contributors to sinusitis. Other causes include allergies, immune system conditions or a deviated nasal septum. Chronic sinusitis also may result in the formation of nasal polyps. Otolaryngologist Jean Kim, M.D., says polyps are the most severe form of chronic sinusitis, making breathing through the nose nearly impossible. And it’s not subtle. You can spot folks with polyps from across a room—they breathe through their mouths, talk with nasal voices, are constantly sniffing and have swollen faces. Kim says no one is quite sure what causes the polyps, but that it could be because of recurrent sinus infections or it could be genetic. Though children and adults can get polyps, it’s more commonly seen in adults.
How is chronic sinusitis treated?
For children and adults—but especially children—most cases of chronic sinusitis can be managed medically with prescription drugs or antibiotics. Surgery may be necessary in severe cases when medical management isn’t helping. For patients with polyps, treatment may be more complicated, as polyps may return even after surgery. Kim recently identified a specific protein tied to nasal polyps, which may help in developing more successful treatments in the future. For all cases of chronic sinusitis, the goal is to get patients to a better quality of life.
Sinus & Allergy
Learn about common sinus conditions and treatment options that will help you breathe easier and feel better. Refreshments will be served. Visit hopkinsmedicine.org/healthseminars to register
For more information about chronic sinusitis and other conditions, visit hopkinsmedicine.org/sinus. For appointments and consultations, call 877-546-1872.