Everybody experiences the occasional irritation of having a cold, but for some people, that feeling of having a stuffy nose and head congestion is almost constant, lasting for ten days or more at a time with no consistent improvement. For as many as 1 in 8 people, sinusitis may be the culprit behind their constant discomfort.
What Is Sinusitis?
Sinusitis, also known as rhinosinusitis or sinus infection, occurs when the sinuses become infected with bacteria or viruses. Although the initial infection often occurs during a cold or other illness, the infection remains and causes the linings of the sinuses to swell. This blocks the drainage channels, causing the nose and sinus cavities to fill up with mucus and even pus in more severe cases.
How to Tell If You Have Sinusitis
The symptoms of a sinus infection are similar to those of a head cold but longer lasting. In most cases, acute sinusitis is characterized by as many as four weeks of colored mucus draining from the nose as well as a stuffy feeling in the nose or a feeling of pressure in the head and around the eyes. Chronic sinusitis, which lasts even longer and is defined by excessive inflammation rather than by the infection itself, can last for twelve weeks or more, but it has the same basic symptoms.
How Is Sinusitis Treated?
The treatment for sinusitis depends on the underlying cause. Before beginning treatment for acute sinusitis, Dr. Rubinstein will determine whether the infection is bacterial or viral. Viral sinusitis, which is less serious and often clears up within ten days, can often be managed at home with pain relievers, nasal sprays, or saltwater irrigation. If the infection is longer-lasting or worsening, however, it may be a bacterial infection, which often benefits from a short course of antibiotics.
For patients suffering from chronic sinusitis, the treatment will typically be similar to that for acute sinusitis but with prolonged antibiotics, often 21 days of continuous treatment, with an eye toward reversing inflammation, along with saltwater irrigation in the nose and nasal steroid sprays. Dr. Rubinstein will also look for factors such as allergies, asthma, and nasal polyps that may contribute to the problem. A CT Scan is ordered for those who have recurrent acute infections, 4 or more courses of antibiotics per year, or for those with a chronic infection, and fails to respond to 21 days of antibiotics.
Surgical Correction of Chronic Sinusitis
In severe cases that cannot be corrected through ordinary means, surgery may be recommended. For some patients, this means endoscopic sinus surgery, although most benefit from a newer technique, such as sinuplasty, which uses balloons to increase the size of the sinus openings. Balloon sinuplasty is gaining in popularity, and may be used alone or in addition to standard endoscopic surgery. When determining if any procedure is necessary, you’ll need to go through a detailed consultation. This will include your medical history as well as a detailed examination to identify which of your sinus are affected and may need to be opened. In many cases, a CT scan will help to identify the location of the problem.
During the procedure itself, Dr. Rubinstein uses a flexible pencil-thin tool called an endoscope to provide visibility inside the nose and sinuses. Using the endoscope to guide the procedure, he’ll then widen the natural pathways that run between the nose and the sinuses. This allows increased drainage as well as improved airflow, which will help to eliminate future infections. The procedure also improves the ability of medications like nasal sprays to get into the sinuses where they’ll be most effective.
In most cases, recovery is fairly minimal. There is no nasal packing, and most patients report that they do not experience much pain, although medication will be prescribed to help with potential discomfort. You will also be given medications that may include nasal rinses or steroid sprays to help reduce infection and inflammation. Congestion and drainage should improve noticeably within the first few weeks after surgery.