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Get Relief from Sinus Pain

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Your nose is stuffy. You have thick, yellowish mucus. You’re coughing, and you feel tired and achy. You think that you have a cold. You take medicines to relieve your symptoms, but they don’t help. When you also get a terrible headache, you finally drag yourself to the doctor. After listening to your history of symptoms and examining your face and forehead, the doctor says you have sinusitis.

What Is Sinusitis?
Sinusitis simply means your sinuses are inflamed – red and swollen – because of an infection or another problem. There are several types of sinusitis:

Acute, which lasts up to 4 weeks
Subacute, which lasts 4 to 12 weeks
Chronic, which lasts more than 12 weeks and can continue for months or even years
Recurrent, with several attacks within a year

What Causes Sinusitis?
Anything that causes swelling in the nose can block the openings between your paranasal sinuses and your nose, including a cold, allergies, or a reaction to some chemical to which you’ve been exposed. The blockage causes air and mucus to become trapped within the sinuses. This may cause pain and thickened mucus.

If you have nasal allergies along with sinusitis, your doctor may recommend medicine to control your allergies.

The pain of a sinus attack arises because the trapped air and mucus put pressure on the mucous membrane of the sinuses and the bony wall behind it. Also, when a swollen membrane at the opening of a paranasal sinus prevents air from entering into the sinuses, it can create a vacuum that causes pain.

Mucus thickens because it loses its water content as it stays trapped inside the sinuses for a long time. In addition, inflammation leads to extra materials being secreted into the mucus, causing thickening.

How Is Sinusitis Treated?
If you have acute sinusitis, your doctor may recommend antibiotics to control a bacterial infection, if present; pain relievers to reduce any pain; or decongestants. Even if you have acute sinusitis, your doctor may choose not to use an antibiotic because many cases of acute sinusitis will end on their own. However, if you do not feel better after a few days, you should contact your doctor again.

If you have nasal allergies along with sinusitis, your doctor may recommend medicine to control your allergies. This may include a nasal steroid spray that reduces the swelling around the sinus passages and allows the sinuses to drain.

If you have asthma and then get sinusitis, your asthma may worsen. You should contact your doctor, who may change your asthma treatment.

Healthcare professionals often find it difficult to treat chronic rhinosinusitis successfully. They have two options to offer: medicine and surgery.

Nasal steroid sprays are helpful for many people, but most people still do not get full relief of symptoms with these medicines. Physicians occasionally recommend a long course of antibiotics, but results from clinical research do not support this kind of antibiotic use. Saline washes or saline nasal sprays can be helpful in chronic rhinosinusitis because they remove thick secretions and allow the sinuses to drain. Oral steroids, such as prednisone, may be prescribed for severe chronic rhinosinusitis. However, oral steroids are powerful medicines with significant side effects, and these medicines typically are prescribed when other medicines have failed.

When medicine fails, surgery may be the only alternative for treating chronic rhinosinusitis. The goal of surgery is to improve sinus drainage and reduce blockage of the nasal passages. Nasal surgery usually is performed to enlarge the natural openings of the sinuses, remove nasal polyps, or correct significant structural problems inside the nose and the sinuses if they contribute to sinus obstruction. Although most people have fewer symptoms and a better quality of life after surgery, problems can reoccur, sometimes even after a short period.

In children, problems can sometimes be eliminated by removing the adenoids. These gland-like tissues, located high in the throat behind and above the roof of the mouth, can obstruct the nasal passages.

Can Sinusitis Be Prevented?
There are no methods that have been scientifically proven to prevent acute or chronic sinusitis. However, some measures may help.

Keep your nose as moist as possible with frequent use of saline sprays or washes. Avoid very dry indoor environments and use a humidifier, if necessary. Be aware, however, that a humid environment also may increase the amount of mold, dust mite, or cockroach allergens in your home; this is important only if you are allergic to any of these organisms.

Avoid exposure to irritants, such as cigarette and cigar smoke, or strong odors from chemicals. Avoid exposure to substances to which you are allergic. If you haven’t been tested for allergies and you are getting frequent sinus infections, ask your doctor to give you an allergy evaluation or refer you to an allergy specialist.


Source: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, September/October 2011.