Emergency -

University of South Florida

Sinusitis Leaving You Dazed and Confused?

Living behind your cheekbones, between your eyes and eyebrows, are your sinus cavities, working to filter and humidify the air you breathe. They are lined with a mucus membrane and are otherwise hollow – until you have an infection.

Sinusitis is a term used to explain all sinus discomfort and has become generic in term of sinus maladies. Sinusitis, in reality, is an inflammation of the sinus cavity; a sinus infection is what occurs in the sinus cavities due to infection.

“Sinusitis is one of the most common medical conditions diagnosed in the US, affecting about 37 million patients per year. One out of five adult antibiotic prescriptions is written for sinusitis.” said Dr. Mark Tabor of USF Health Otolaryngology (ENT).

The physical symptoms of sinusitis can feel debilitating. How to treat it and get some relief is the million-dollar question. But before treating, you have to confirm what it is.

Infections can be bacterial, viral or fungal and cause the sinus cavities and mucus membranes to become blocked, triggering inflammation. The inflammation is felt in your sinuses, eyes, face and teeth, leading you to believe you have a bout of sinusitis. But what is the true definition of sinusitis?

Explain Your Cold or Allergy Symptoms

Sinus infections tend to mimic cold and allergy symptoms, but the telling sign that you may have sinus infection is the pressure and achy sensation in your face, including your ears and teeth.

In addition, post nasal drip, (when mucus drips down the back of the throat), bad breath, and a decreased sense of smell, are also symptoms of infection. Off-color mucus is also associated with a sinus infection, but this symptom alone cannot determine if you have an infection as it can be caused by many reasons.

“An ENT doctor (Otolaryngologist) is the best type of doctor to diagnose and treat sinusitis. In the office setting we can look into the nose with a tiny camera and see what is going on. If we see pus we can take a sample for culture to make sure the patient is on the correct antibiotic,” Dr. Tabor said. “Ultimately, if a patient has longstanding issues, a CT scan of the sinuses to look for structural problems and changes to the sinus lining would be recommended.”

I Have Symptoms All the Time, What Is it?

Colds and allergies also present headaches, congestion and a runny or stuffy nose. Sufferers of chronic allergies often mistake allergies for sinus infection. A visit to your doctor will determine if you have a cold, allergies or a sinus infection. Your doctor will also determine if your sinus issues are chronic or acute.

Acute sinusitis refers to a viral infection lasting 7 to 10 days. A bacterial infection can last up to 4 weeks.

Chronic sinusitis is when the symptoms continue for 12 weeks or more. The inflammation can last for months, and even years.

Several factors can agitate chronic sinusitis: common colds or viral infections, a compromised immune system, a deviated septum, environmental or airborne irritants and exposure to cigarette smoke.

“Proper treatment for sinusitis usually consists of antibiotics, decongestants and sometimes, steroids. Antibiotics should be based on culture results if they are available. If a patient has multiple, recurring or chronic sinus infections and the CT scan shows evidence of chronic sinusitis, then they may be a candidate for endoscopic sinus surgery,” said Dr. Tabor, adding that “Modern sinus surgery is minimally invasive, has excellent results and almost never requires nasal packing.”

If I Have a Sinus Infection Am I Contagious?

Different infections call for different measures. Infections triggered by bacteria are not contagious. Sinus infections caused by a virus (the most common cause) means you may be contagious.

To see a specialist contact USF Health Otolaryngology at (813) 974-4683.


Written by Ercilia Colón


USF Health Making Life Better





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