Between the ups and downs of the weather, and what seems to be the early arrival of spring, you’ve probably had at least one cold or at least experienced some sinus pressure this season.
If you have pain in your forehead, or between your eyes,. If your face feels full and your nose is stuffy. Or if even your upper teeth hurt — you could be experiencing sinusitis.
These are common complaints that send people to the pharmacy or doctor’s office to find relief.
Most people have four sets of nasal sinuses:
- Two in the forehead above the eyes
- One inside each cheekbone
- A group of them, called the ethmoid sinuses, behind the bridge of the nose
- Another group behind the nose and underneath the brain called the sphenoid sinuses
What Is Sinusitis?
It’s inflammation in your sinuses. In healthy sinuses, tiny, hair-like structures called cilia move mucus across sinus membranes and toward an exit. All of your sinus cavities connect to your nose to allow a free exchange of air and mucus. With a sinus Infections or allergies, the sinus tissue is inflamed, red, and swollen and make it difficult to breathe through your nose.
Sinusitis usually starts with inflammation triggered by a cold, allergy attack, or irritant. But it may not end there. There’s usually a nasal discharge that may be yellow, green, or clear. You may also have fatigue, trouble with sense of smell or taste, cough, sore throat, bad breath, headache, pain when you bend forward, and fever.
Inflammation of the sinuses that lasts for more than 3 months is chronic sinusitis. Bacteria can make their home in blocked sinuses, but they aren’t the only cause. Anatomy, allergies, polyps, immune system problems, and dental diseases may also be to blame.
If your sinuses remain inflamed, sinus membranes can thicken and swell. The swelling may be enough to cause grape-like masses called polyps. They can jut out from the sinus into the nasal passage and block your nasal airway.
How do you treat it?
Nasal sprays open swollen nasal passages and allow your sinuses to drain. But you should use these drugs only for a few days. After that, there’s a kickback effect, making your nasal passages swell shut again. Nasal steroid sprays, or saline sprays or washes, may be other options. If symptoms don’t stop, see your doctor.
Antibiotics don’t treat viruses, so they won’t help the sinus symptoms of a cold. Your cold should be over in a week or two. Usually, cold-related sinusitis goes away then, too.
If you have allergy induced sinusitis, you may want to try irrigation with saline solution, either with a neti pot or squeeze bottle. Nasal steroid sprays might help, too. Antihistamines could also come in handy, especially if you’re sneezing and have a runny nose.
Yellow or green mucus can mean a bacterial infection. Even then, it usually clears up in 7 to 14 days without antibiotics. But if you keep feeling worse, your symptoms last and are severe, or if you get a fever, it’s time to see a doctor.
Worst case scenario, an operation called FESS (functional endoscopic sinus surgery) can bring some relief, if nothing else works. But start with the simplest solution first: Avoid things that irritate your sinuses, and then work with your doctor to see if medicines help.
Can You Prevent Sinusitis?
Unfortunately, no. But you can do these three things that help:
- Keep your sinuses moist. Use saline sprays, nasal lubricant sprays, or nasal irrigation often.
- Avoid very dry indoor environments.
- Avoid exposure to irritants, such as cigarette smoke or strong chemical odors.
Does your life have to stop because of sinusitis?
Here are some do’s and don’ts.
- Go to school or work. It’s not contagious, so if you feel well enough to do your normal activities, you can do so without worry of giving it to someone else.
- Choose OTC drugs carefully. You can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help the pain. Decongestant nasal sprays can open up your stuffy nose, but don’t use them more than a few days, or over time, they may make your symptoms worse.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Herbal tea and other hot liquids can help break up the stuffiness in your head.
- Use warm compresses. The moist heat can relieve your sinus pressure, open up the blocked passages, and ease the pain. Hold a wet towel against your face or breathe in steam through a hot cloth. A hot shower can also help loosen up mucus.
- Use a humidifier. The cool mist can make you feel less stuffy. Be sure the water and tank are clean before you refill it. Clean it once a week with diluted bleach or vinegar to keep the mold and bacteria away.
- Rinse your sinuses. Ask your pharmacist or pharmacy tech for a special squeeze bottle that is sold specially for this purpose, or use a neti pot. Be sure to use distilled or sterile water or boiled water after it’s cooled down.
- Keep working out, if you feel well enough. Sinusitis can cause dizziness and problems with coordination, so don’t lift weights until your symptoms improve. If you feel pressure in your chest, stop exercising until you feel better. When you have trouble breathing, it can overwork your heart, so do use caution.
- Avoid flying if you can help it. If you fly with sinusitis, it can also cause pain in the ear and other complications. If you do have to fly, doing things like yawning and swallowing at takeoff and landing will help keep the tubes in your ears clear. You can also try chewing gum to keep your ears from popping.
- Avoid the pool. Chlorine in pools can irritate the passageways of your nose. However, if you feel well enough to exercise or want to swim, use nose clips to avoid getting water in your nose.
- Avoid drinking alcohol. Cocktails, wine, and beer will dehydrate you and can cause your sinuses and the lining of your nose to swell, which makes your symptoms worse.
- Avoid breathing in irritants. Avoid cigarettes (smoking them or being around them). Avoid being outdoors if pollen counts are high or if the air is not clean where you live.