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Sinusitis Symptoms and Treatment

Updated on February 19, 2010

Below, above, between and even behind your eyes, your skull bone is riddled with spaces called sinuses. All these sinuses are connected together by small holes and tubes, making a complex interconnecting system rather like a cave-explorer's night­mare in miniature. The exact purpose of the sinuses is obscure, but they certainly lighten the skull and may act as resonance chambers for speech. Lining this network of sinuses is a moist membrane, the same as that inside your nostrils. The whole system is thus kept constantly moist, and the moisture slowly flows out of the drain holes in the sinuses into the back of your nose and throat. The system is designed to keep the sinuses clean, as any dust or other small particles that may enter them, is washed out. Unfortunately it does not always work perfectly. Some people secrete excess amounts of fluid in the sinuses, while others may have drainage holes and tubes that are too small to cope with the secretions produced.

With hay fever, particles to which the person reacts adversely enter the sinuses and set up an irritation that stimulates the excess production of watery phlegm. A constantly runny nose and a postnasal drip then result. If bacteria or viruses enter the sinuses, an infection may result. The phlegm produced is no longer watery, but thick and pus-like. It is very easy in this situation for the drain holes to become blocked, and the infection then concen­trates in a small number of sinuses. Pus is constantly being formed by the rapidly multiplying bacteria, and soon the sinus becomes very painful and tender. Waste products from the infection enter the blood stream, and cause a fever, headaches and the other unpleasant sensations of any major infection. This is sinusitis. It is quite easy for the infection to spread to the middle ear too, as the Eustachian tube connects the back of the nose to the middle ear.

The easiest way to prove the presence of sinusitis is to take an X- ray of the sinuses which shows if they are clear or full of fluid. Swabs may be taken from the back of the nose and sent to a pathologist so that the type of bacteria causing the infec­tion can be determined and the correct treatment selected.

Once infection is present, it can persist for a long time unless the appropriate treatment is given. Untreated the infection can spread to the teeth, eyes and even the brain, and severe abscesses may form. Treatment usually takes the form of the appropriate antibiotic, and other medications to help dry up the production of phlegm and clear the sinuses. Many people find inhalations of steam and nasal decongestant drops beneficial. In severe cases, it may be necessary to insert nee­dles through the nose into the sinuses to wash out the pus.

Prevention is always better than cure, and in people who suffer from repeated attacks of sinusitis, procedures to reduce the likelihood of attacks can be performed by ear, nose and throat surgeons. These can vary from burning away the moist membrane lining the nose, to drilling larger drain holes into the sinuses.

There are also special nasal sprays avail­able on prescription from doctors that can be used regularly to prevent the lining of the nose from reacting to any allergies. These must be used long term to give maximum benefit.

Sinusitis is a very common and often very distressing condition, but provided treatment is sought promptly, it should not cause any serious complications.

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    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 8 years ago from Delaware

      Thanks once again for a very informative hub! Sinus infections caused my MS to flare up and it took quite a while to realize the significance of infections on MS. While I still have sinus problems, infections are rare which is a big relief these days. Thanks for helping me to understand more about where sinuses are and their purpose.

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