chronic sinusitis Images (Click to view larger image)
chronic rhinosinusitis, chronic frontal sinusitis
Chronic sinusitis is the presence of constant nasal and sinus symptoms for three months or longer.
What is going on in the body?
There are four pairs of sinuses.
The ethmoid sinus is a matchbox-sized area filled with 7 to 10 interconnected bubbles made of very thin-walled bone. These bony bubbles are lined with a mucous membrane similar to that found in the nose. Each bubble has its own opening to drain into the nasal, or nose, cavity. The front part of the ethmoid is the most crucial of all the sinuses because the forehead and maxillary sinuses must drain through it into the nose. The back part of the ethmoid drains through a separate opening.
- The frontal sinuses are in the forehead bone.
- The maxillary sinuses are below the eyes.
- The ethmoid sinuses are located between the eyes.
- The sphenoid sinuses lie between the back parts of the eye sockets.
The sinuses are normally air-filled. The lining of the sinuses are covered with microscopic fingers known as cilia that direct the mucous to the drainage openings.
The function of the sinuses is not clearly understood. In the average healthy person, the lining of the sinuses and nose makes about one, to one and a half pints of mucous each day. One of the functions of the sinuses is to moisten, cleanse and warm the air as it goes through the nose before it enters the lungs. The healthy nose is a wonderful filter removing eighty percent (80%) of all tiny particles as they are breathed in. Since the sinuses are air-filled, another function is thought to be making the skull lighter in weight
In cases of chronic sinus disease, the natural drainage pathways of the sinuses do not always work properly.
Conditions in the environment like dry air, pollutants, dust and dirt can damage the microscopic "fingers" so that mucous is not cleared, and bacteria overgrow.
- The mucous glands produce thicker secretions that stay in the cavities, increasing bacterial overgrowth and thickening the lining.
- Less air can pass through, causing nasal stuffiness.
- The microscopic "fingers" do not work effectively.
- Chronic inflammation causes face pain over the sinuses affected.
- Partial or complete blockage of the sinus openings from structure problems in the sinuses themselves can cause chronic sinusitis.
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
The classic symptoms of chronic sinusitis are:
- nasal stuffiness
- increased nasal discharge
- face pain or pressure
Chronic cough and loss of smell may occur.
In children, symptoms are slightly different. Symptoms in children include:
- nasal stuffiness
- mouth breathing
- cough, which is worse at night
- discoloured nasal discharge
- frequent ear disease
The impact of chronic sinus symptoms on the overall well being of a person is frequently underestimated. Several studies show that these symptoms significantly impact one's sense of wellness, health and productivity.
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
People with chronic sinusitis, regardless of the cause, are more likely to develop episodes of acute sinusitis, as well.
What can be done to prevent the condition?
Persons who have allergic diseases need to avoid their trigger allergens and use aggressive treatment to limit the damage to the nasal lining and the sinuses. For environmentally caused disease, avoiding exposure to cold air, keeping the air humidified and minimising exposure to pollutants all help. Aggressive treatment of symptoms will help minimise damage.
For people with structural problems of the nose and sinuses, topical corticosteroids, such as betamethasone, and saltwater rinses are the best means of limiting chronic irritation.
How is the condition diagnosed?
The most important part of diagnosis is the history of the illness. The doctor will pay particular attention to symptoms, environmental reactions and responses to medications. Since other diseases can act like chronic sinusitis, a complete medical history is crucial.
Physical examination using a rigid nasal endoscope not only accurately diagnoses chronic sinusitis, but also is used to follow the medical management of this disorder.
Computed tomography, or CT scan, of the sinuses is the standard means of X-ray diagnosis. However, a CT scan should be obtained only after all other medical treatment has been tried. CT scan is used to assess the extent of the disease or to identify any structural problems. However, the scans must be interpreted with caution since other conditions can look like chronic sinusitis on CT scan. Also, CT scans may not identify chronic sinusitis when it does exist. Diagnosis and treatment should not be based on X-ray alone, but instead should be based on symptoms.
What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Long-term effects depend on the underlying causes and the effects of sinus opening obstruction. Left untreated, chronic sinusitis can cause significant problems because the infection erodes the bony walls. In the frontal sinus, this can lead to pressure on the eyeball and double vision, forehead swelling, or brain abscesses and meningitis. In the ethmoid sinus, this can lead to abscess around the eye. In the maxillary sinus, this can lead to blockage of the nose. In the sphenoid sinus, this can lead to double vision and decreased movement of the eyeball, or brain abscesses and meningitis.
What are the treatments for the condition?
Treatment for chronic sinusitis caused by allergies includes:
Treatment for chronic bacterial sinusitis includes appropriate antibiotics such as amoxicillin/clavulanic acid. Chronic infection is usually caused in adults by Staphylococcus aureus and anaerobic bacteria, or bacteria that cannot live in an environment with oxygen. In children, the bacteria are the same in both acute and chronic infections. In addition to antibiotics, nasal steroids, saltwater rinses, decongestants, and mucous-thinning agents are helpful.
- taking antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, loratadine or fexofendadine
- taking decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine.
- using saltwater rinses
- using topical nasal corticosteroids, such as fluticasone or beclomethasone
- avoiding allergens
- undergoing allergy desensitisation
For people who do not respond to these treatments and who have structural problems, surgery is the next step in management. The goal of surgery is to re-establish the normal routes of drainage and remove all areas of infection. After surgery:
What are the side effects of the treatments?
- 90% of people report improvement in their headaches.
- 85% have reduced postnasal drainage.
- more than 70% recover the sense of smell.
Side effects depend on the different treatments used. With surgery, complications are infrequent. There is a very rare occurrence of tear duct injury, a disturbance in vision, or leak of spinal fluid.
What happens after treatment for the condition?
With successful medical and surgical treatment, symptoms are usually controllable and infections can be reduced.
How is the condition monitored?
Monitoring depends on the symptoms. However, any person with progressively worsening symptoms or eye involvement needs to seek immediate medical care.
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request