Sinuses — everyone has them, but not everyone has trouble with theirs. The sinuses are cavities in the bones of the face and there are eight in all. Each is lined with a mucous membrane, which produces a substance that helps trap dirt and dust and which also adds moisture to the air people breathe in.
Although the exact reason people have sinuses isn’t known, there are some hypotheses about them. One guess is that the air-filled cavities prevent the head from being too heavy. Along with helping to make breathing more comfortable, sinuses also influence the tone of a person’s voice.
In most cases, the mucous produced by the sinuses is able to drain away easily. But, there are cases when the sinus becomes blocked or when more mucous than usual is produced. When you have a cold or an allergic reaction, the lining of the sinuses can swell, making it more difficult for mucous to drain. If the sinus problems persist for months, they are known as chronic sinusitis. There are several reasons why you might have chronic sinus problems, including the anatomy of your sinuses and allergies.
The septum is the wall of cartilage and bone between the two nasal cavities. When the septum is straight up and down, there are rarely any issues. But, in many people, the septum leans towards one side or the other, which is known as deviated septum. While the deviation might not be much of an issue for some people, in some cases it can be severe enough to block the nasal passage and the sinuses. While some people are able to manage the issues caused by a deviated septum with medications, the only way to actually correct the problem is with surgery, such as a septoplasty.
Allergies can also lead to chronic sinus problems. When you have an allergic reaction to something, such as smoke or pollen, the immune response causes the lining of the sinuses to become inflamed. The inflamed tissue blocks the sinuses and creates an ideal environment for infection to occur. Managing your allergies can reduce symptoms and the likelihood of a sinus infection occurring.
In some cases, sinus problems stem from a blockage or obstruction of the sinus. There are several factors that can create a blockage. If your nose was injured or broken, the force of the blow could cause a bone or cartilage to block a sinus. Some people develop nasal polyps, which also create blockages and prevent the mucous from fully draining. Removing the source of the blockage or otherwise expanding the passageway to the sinus, during balloon sinusplasty can help reduce the sinus problem and improve your breathing.
Another potential cause of blockage is a concha bullosa, or an air pocket located within one of the nasal turbinates. The air pocket enlarges the size of the turbinate, potentially blocking the sinus. Removing air pocket will reduce the size and minimize the blockage.
It’s not very common, but some people have an additional sinus cavity. Although it might seem that an extra cavity would be a bonus, it most cases it’s problematic, as it makes the drainage space smaller and increases the chance of a blockage.
In some cases, the cause of a person’s sinus problems can be the size or shape of his or her sinuses. Some people are born with sinus cavities that are narrower than the average sinus, which can make it more of a challenge for those sinuses to drain.
Coping with Sinus Problems
There are a few things you can do to get temporary relief from sinus problems. Some people find that washing their nasal cavity out with saline solution or warm, salt water helps reduce inflammation, rinse away built-up mucous and improve breathing. If the sinus issues are related to allergies, avoiding the allergen or taking antihistamines can reduce symptoms. Drinking a lot of water or other fluids will also help the mucous drain away.
While those measures can provide some relief from discomfort, they are temporary fixes at best and need to be repeated or kept up in order to provide continuous results. Patients looking for a more permanent solution to their sinus troubles might be better off considering sinus surgery. The goal of sinus surgery is to enlarge the opening to the sinus cavity, making it not only easier for a person to breathe, but also improving his or her sense of smell and taste.
At Hudson Valley Sinus Center in Newburgh, NY, Dr. Ran Y. Rubinstein is a board certified facial plastic surgeon who specializes in nasal surgery, including sinus surgery and rhinoplasty. If you have difficult breathing or other pain and discomfort related to your sinuses, contact Dr. Rubinstein today to learn how you can get relief. Call 845-562-6673 to schedule an appointment.