Millions of Americans are affected by sinusitis every year. Even so, it's often misdiagnosed and misunderstood by people with the condition.
Sinusitis affects four pairs of sinuses called the paranasal air sinuses, which connect to the nasal passages. Sinusitis is an infection in these sinuses. An infection can be caused by allergies, certain medications, changes in the air or abnormalities in the sinuses themselves. Acute sinusitis is the most common form of this condition.
"Acute sinusitis usually starts with a cold caused by a virus," says Timothy Craig, M.D., a professor of medicine and pediatrics at Penn State University and a spokesman for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. "Colds don't cause sinusitis, but they do inflame the sinuses."
Because your nose can get stuffy when you have a cold, it's easy to confuse nasal congestion with sinusitis. Acute sinusitis lasts longer than a cold and causes some unique symptoms. It usually begins about 10 days after the start of a cold.
With sinusitis, you may have some or all of these symptoms:
pain in the upper jaw and teeth
headache when you wake up in the morning
pain when your forehead or cheek is touched
tenderness when the sides of your nose are touched, a loss of smell and a stuffy nose
earaches, neck pain and deep aching at the top of your head
a cough that may be more severe at night
runny nose or nasal congestion
If you have sinusitis, your health care provider may prescribe decongestants, pain relievers, antibiotics, a steroid nasal spray, or a combination of these.
You should use decongestant nose drops and sprays for only a few days. If you use these medicines for longer periods, they can lead to more congestion and swelling of your nasal passages.
Doing the following may help reduce the number and severity of attacks and possibly prevent acute sinusitis from becoming chronic.
Use a humidifier at night and drink plenty of water during the day.
Don't smoke and avoid secondhand smoke and other air pollutants.
See your doctor if you suspect your sinus inflammation may be related to dust, mold or pollen.
Avoid alcohol, which causes nasal and sinus membranes to swell.
If you get a cold, clean your sinuses with saline to keep mucus liquid.
"By avoiding triggers and keeping yourself well-hydrated, you may be able to avoid sinusitis attacks or chronic sinusitis," says Dr. Craig.
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