The sinuses are a series of cavities located behind your cheeks and forehead. They are usually empty spaces that are involved in clearing your respiratory system of inhaled junk that needs to be eliminated. Lining the insides of the sinus cavities are structures known as cilia. Cilia are very small hairs that work together to sweep the waste and mucus out of your sinuses and into your nose, where it can drain out.
When these sinus cavities become blocked or invaded by bacteria, viruses or fungi, they can be havens for infections. The lining of the sinus cavities becomes inflamed and swollen when the cilia are no longer able to push out the bacteria or other pathogens. This ciliary dysfunction can have any number of causes including changes in temperature or pressure in the sinuses. Overuse of nasal sprays and other irritants can also cause the cilia to stop functioning. People who smoke are often at increased risk for sinus infections due to damage was done to the cilia by smoke particles.
People who have a more general viral infection such as the cold or flu will often be at increased risk of catching a sinus infection. This is also due to the damage was done to the cilia by the infecting virus.
Sinusitis is broken into three major categories based on the time you’ve had the infection. Acute sinus infections are any infection lasting less than a month. Sub-acute infections persist for between one and three months. Chronic infections of the sinuses last for more than three months. In general, infections lasting less than three months are able to be treated with medications. Chronic infections may require surgical intervention to open up the blockages and get the cilia working again.
There are several common symptoms associated with sinus infections. It is quite common to have pain and tenderness in your face, especially over your cheeks and forehead. The exact location of the pain is related to which particular sinuses are infected. Stuffy noses are common as is a fever. Coughing quite common, especially if there is mucus accumulating in your throat from drainage due to the infection. The eyes, nose, and throat can become quite red as well. It is possible for the pain and tenderness to travel around your head as well, sometimes causing a more general headache.
Ways to diagnose
There are several ways to diagnose a sinus infection. X-rays and MRI are common imaging methods used to find an infection in the sinus cavities. CT scans are useful in chronic sinusitis.
Treatment for sinusitis varies depending on the specific cause of the infection. Bacterial infections can be treated with various antibiotics. Viral and fungal causes are treated with anti-viral and anti-fungal medications. Specifics of treatment are very specific to the exact cause and are outside the scope of this article. If you should need treatment for a sinus infection, your doctor will work with you to find the best solution for you.