What is chronic sinusitis?

Chronic sinusitis is a long-lasting sinus inflammation (swelling) and infection. It can linger over a period of time, typically longer than 12 weeks. The sinuses are four paired cavities (spaces) in the head. These spaces are connected by narrow channels. The four spaces are named for the bones they are near: ethmoidal, sphenoidal, frontal and maxillary. The sinuses make thin mucus that drains out of the channels of the nose. This drainage works as a filtration system, keeping the nose clean and free of bacteria.

The sinuses can become infected when they are blocked and filled with fluid. This is called sinusitis. There are several kinds of sinusitis: acute, subacute, chronic and recurrent. Unlike chronic sinusitis, acute sinusitis typically lasts only a few days, but can last up to four weeks, before going away with minimal or no treatment. Chronic sinusitis may require different types of treatment. Surgery is sometimes needed in severe cases of chronic sinusitis that do not respond to other methods.

Chronic sinusitis is different than recurrent sinusitis because chronic sinusitis symptoms never really go away for long periods of time. In recurrent sinusitis, you have 4 or more bouts of sinusitis in one year, but you also have symptom-free periods in between.

What is the difference between sinusitis and rhinitis?

The “-itis” means that we are talking about inflammation, swollen tissue. Sinusitis is swelling in the sinuses. Rhinitis is swelling in the nose. In reality, these usually happen at the same time, so chronic sinusitis is pretty much the same as chronic rhinosinusitis.

What causes chronic sinusitis?

Chronic sinusitis can be caused by several factors. These include:

  • Blocked airways from asthma or allergies or from conditions such as cystic fibrosis.
  • Infections, which can be bacterial, viral or fungal.
  • Abnormal nose structures, such as a deviated septum (the line of cartilage and bone down the middle of the nose is crooked or off to the side).
  • Polyps (growths).
  • A weak immune system.

What are the symptoms of chronic sinusitis?

Symptoms of chronic sinusitis may include:

  • Tenderness or pressure in the face (particularly around the nose, eyes and forehead).
  • Post nasal drip (mucus drips down the throat).
  • Nasal discharge (thick yellow or green discharge from nose) or a stuffy nose.
  • Toothache, ear pain and/or headache.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.
  • Ear pain.
  • Loss of the senses of taste and smell.
  • Halitosis (bad breath).

The combination of symptoms and the fact that they last for such a long period of time can make you miserable. You'll probably have trouble sleeping through the night and may have dark circles under your eyes.

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