Nasal & Sinus Center

Nasal & Sinus FAQs

Common Nasal & Sinus Questions

What do the sinuses do?

Your sinuses are not there just to cause trouble. These hollow spaces within the bones of your face humidify and warm the air you breathe, aid your sense of smell and improve the sound of your voice. They also make mucus, which cleans and moistures your nasal passages. Inside your sinuses are tiny hairs, called cilia (SIL-e-uh), that constantly "sweep" mucus out your sinuses and into your nose and throat. Your sinuses drain into your nose through small openings called ostia (AH-stee-uh). When the ostia become blocked, mucus backs up in your sinuses. When the sinuses can't drain, bacteria can multiply and cause infection. Infection causes swelling, which makes it even harder for the sinuses to drain. The infection can spread from one sinus cavity to another. It also can infect bone surrounding the sinuses and spread to the brain, where it can cause meningitis or a brain abscess.

What does my doctor mean when he mentions acute or chronic sinusitis?

Acute sinus infections may last from two to three weeks or can linger for as long as 12 weeks. In some instances, acute sinus infections may recur more than several times a year. You may have acute sinusitis if you have one or more of the following signs or symptoms.

  • A "roller-coaster" cold - just when you're getting over a cold, congestion and discomfort return.
  • A stuffy or runny nose.
  • Thick, yellowish-green nasal discharge.
  • Facial pain or headache that seems to be worse on one side.
  • Pain that increases when leaning forward.
  • A cough or sore throat that gets worse at night.
  • Pain in the upper teeth.
  • Fatigue.
  • Decreased or lost sense of smell and taste.

Although the signs and symptoms for chronic sinusitis are similar to acute sinusitis, they may not be as apparent, so you may not even know you have a sinus infection. However, you may experience episodes of sudden worsening. If you suspect that you have sinusitis, it's important that you seek medical attention. Acute sinusitis may require treatment with antibiotics. Chronic sinusitis should be investigated and treated aggressively. Sometimes, people have an allergy and it's not sinusitis at all. Allergy tests will be able to determine this.

Other than antibiotics, what can be done for chronic sinusitis infections?

Before considering other treatment options, first be sure that you have a sinus infection. Other problems, including allergic rhinitis (such as hay fever) and polyps in the nose, may mimic the symptoms of chronic sinusitis.

Treatment of sinusitis may include use of decongestants to enhance drainage from the involved sinus (sinuses). Increasing the humidity in your home also may be of benefit. If sinusitis persists despite an appropriate trial of conservative treatment measures, surgery may be a valid consideration.

It's now possible to improve sinus drainage by means of endoscopic surgery. Surgery should only be considered when nonsurgical treatment has failed, and symptoms warrant more aggressive measures.

I have difficulty breathing through my nose. My spouse says that I sleep with my mouth open and snore. Help!

There are quite a number of causes for nasal airway obstruction. A deviated septum or nasal allergies are two of the most common causes. Other common causes include nasal polyps, sinusitis, and vasomotor rhinitis (a chronic stuffy nose caused by unrelated conditions such as thyroid disease, pregnancy and others). Nasal trauma also suggests a deviated septum, however, a single evaluation by a ENT physician can determine the nature of the problem and lead you on your way to better nasal breathing. Nasal allergies and vasomotor rhinitis can be treated successfully in most cases with medications. Nasal polyps and a deviated septum can easily be corrected and satisfactory nasal breathing restored. These procedures are usually done in an outpatient setting under IV sedation. Patients can return to work after only a few days of convalescence.