A sinus infection occurs when the sinuses become inflamed and swell up because of a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection. The infection can be acute or chronic lying behind your eyebrows, behind your cheekbones, and between your eyes are your sinuses — air-filled cavities lined with a mucous membrane that filters and humidifies the air you inhale. This membrane produces and circulates mucus into your sinus and nasal passages to help remove dust, particles, and microbes from the air that you breathe. Tiny hair-like cells called cilia sweep the mucus to the openings that lead to the back of your throat, allowing it to slide down into your stomach.
Signs and Symptoms of Sinus Infection
The symptoms of a sinus infection, whether acute or chronic, are:
- Nasal congestion (stuffy nose)
- Thick nasal discharge that is yellow to green in colour
- Decreased or lost sense of smell
- A feeling of pain, pressure, or fullness in the sinuses
Common symptoms include:
- Postnasal drip (when mucus drips down the back of the throat)
- Tooth pain
- Bad breath
- Fever greater than 100.4 degrees F
- Facial tenderness
- Ear pressure
Causes and Risk Factors of Sinus Infection
The terms “sinus infection” and “sinusitis” are often used interchangeably, but sinusitis simply refers to the inflammation of the sinuses, with or without an infection. The medical term for sinusitis is rhinosinusitis (“rhino” meaning “nose”) because the illness affects the mucous membranes in both the sinuses and nose. Sinus infections ultimately develop because of sinus and nasal blockages that result in sinus inflammation. There are several underlying causes of sinus blockage, including various environmental, anatomical, and genetic factors. But the most common cause of the blockage is inflammation or swelling of the nasal passages because of the common cold or allergies. when a blockage occurs, mucus fails to drain properly, increases in thickness, and fills the sinus spaces. The cilia also slow down their sweeping and cleaning, making it even harder for mucus to drain. When the mucus is unable to drain, it becomes the perfect medium for microbes to grow out of control and cause an infection.
Common Colds and Sinus Infections
A viral infection associated with the common cold is the most common cause of sinus infections. This virus may jump to other people, causing a cold that may also develop into viral sinusitis. In only 0.5 to 2 percent of cases do people develop bacterial sinusitis (a sinus infection caused by bacteria), which is typically a complication of viral sinusitis? Bacterial sinusitis is not contagious.
Types of Chronic Sinusitis or Chronic Sinus Infections
While acute sinusitis often involves an infection, chronic sinusitis does not. Sometimes, the long-term illness is caused by an infection that hasn’t cleared up properly, but most often the exact cause of chronic sinusitis isn’t known. But clinicians may categorize chronic sinusitis into one of three types depending on the features present. The most common type of the illness, chronic sinusitis without nasal polyposis, involves swelling and inflammation of the mucous membranes by various non-polyp factors, such as allergies or irritation (from airborne allergens and toxins) and infections. Chronic sinusitis with nasal polyposis, on the other hand, involves nasal polyps that are large enough to clog the sinus. It’s not always clear why some people develop these polyps and others don’t. In chronic sinusitis with fungal allergy, people experience an allergic reaction to fungi in the air, which causes their mucous membranes to produce thick, dense mucus.
Risk Factors for Chronic Sinusitis and Recurring Sinus Infections
Whatever the type, several factors can increase a person’s risk of developing chronic sinusitis or make the symptoms worse, including:
- exposer to tobacco smoke or other airborne irritants
- Immune system disorders
- Viral infections (including the common cold)
- Intolerance to aspirin
When to See a Doctor About a Sinus Infection
On the other hand, a secondary acute bacterial infection may develop, so it’s advised that you see a doctor if your symptoms last more than 10 days or if your symptoms initially improve but then worsen again within the first 7 days.
See a doctor immediately if you experience:
- A persistent fever higher than 102 degrees F (normal sinus infection fevers are at least 100.4 degrees F)
- Changes in vision, including double vision
- Symptoms that are not relieved with over-the-counter medicines
- Multiple infections within the past year
- Sudden, severe pain in the face or head
- Swelling or redness around the eyes
- Stiff neck
Treatment and Medication Options for Sinus Infection
Up to 70 percent of people with acute sinusitis recover without prescribed medications, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Treatment for acute sinus infections focus on relieving symptoms, such as by:
- Drinking lots of fluids and getting plenty of rest
- Flushing out the sinuses with a saline nasal wash like a saline nasal spray
- Inhaling steam several times a day
- Using a humidifier
Chronic Sinus Infection Treatment
chronic sinus infections typically have a more mysterious cause than acute infections — people with chronic sinus infections often require life-long treatment to keep symptoms at bay.
In addition to the options above, treatment for chronic sinus infections may include:
- Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and changing home or work conditions to reduce exposure to environmental toxins and allergens, such as dust mites, pet dander etc.
- Oral steroids
Prevention of Sinus Infection
A sinus infection is not exactly contagious. But depending on what caused a person’s inflammation, other people may also develop the illness. For example, the common cold and flu are both contagious conditions that can lead to a sinus infection.
- Taking steps to reduce your risk of contracting viral infections can help to prevent sinus infections. These include: Practice good hygiene such as by washing your hands often and covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze
- Get the recommended vaccinations, such as the flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine
- Keep your distance from people who have upper respiratory infections
- Take steps to reduce your stress, which affects your immune system
- Keep your immune system healthy, such as by eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables .
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