Sinus Infections and Allergies
What Is a Sinus Infection?
Sinus infections can make you feel miserable. Sinusitis (sinus infection) is an inflammation of the sinuses — the air-filled cavities in the facial bones.
When you have a sinus infection, the sinus lining (mucous membrane) swells. The swelling blocks the small drainage channels that allow mucus to flow into the nose. (Mucus is actually important, because it flushes out dust and bacteria.) Since the fluid is trapped, germs grow, and this condition can lead to a sinus infection.
The buildup in pressure caused by the blocked mucus can result in:
- Nasal congestion or runny nose.
- Yellow or green nasal drainage.
- Pain around your eyes, nose, cheek bones and ears.
- Pain when your forehead or cheek is touched.
- Earaches and neck pain.
- Fever and fatigue.
- Bad breath.
Chronic sinus infections can sometimes lead to nasal polyps. Most nasal polyps are benign growths arising from the mucus membranes of the nose and sinuses.
Causes of Sinus Infection
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sinus infections are usually caused by a virus. Sometimes they are caused by bacteria, but those cases are less common.
Other conditions can also cause inflammation in the sinuses, including:
- Nasal allergies.
- Environmental irritants, such as dust, air pollutants or tobacco smoke.
- Fungal infections.
Diagnosis of Sinus Infection
To diagnose a sinus infection, your doctor will feel for tenderness in your nose and face and look inside your nose. Other diagnostic tests include:
- Nasal endoscopy (also known as rhinoscopy). A lighted instrument is used to see inside your sinuses. Our pediatric ear, nose and throat doctors (ENTs) may also use endoscopes to get a culture of the fluid to help select the right medicine to treat any infection. If polyps are identified, a CT or MRI scan may be ordered, and a biopsy may be recommended.
- A CT scan or MRI. These images show details of your sinuses and nasal area and might pinpoint a deep inflammation or physical obstruction — which may be difficult to detect with an endoscope.
- An allergy test. If your doctor suspects that your sinus infection is triggered by allergies, you might get a test to pinpoint the allergen that's responsible. Tissue cultures. These cultures might help determine the cause of the sinus infection, such as bacteria or fungi.
Treatment for Sinus Infections
Initially, doctors may recommend simple at-home treatments or prescription medicine to give you relief from sinus infections. Options include:
- Nonprescription pain relievers.
- Warm washcloths applied to the face.
- Saline nasal spray.
- Irrigation of the nose with salt water.
- Antihistamines and other allergy medications.
- Antibiotics to fight bacterial infections.
- Corticosteroid sprays and antihistamines to reduce swelling, particularly if you also have nasal polyps.
- Immunotherapy or allergy shots.
If your sinus infections are resistant to medication, your doctor may suggest surgical treatments, including:
- Endoscopic sinus surgery. The doctor uses a thin, flexible tube with an attached light (endoscope) to examine the sinus passages. If there is a blockage, the doctor might remove tissue or shave away a polyp to promote drainage. Enlarging a narrow sinus opening may also help.
- Minimally invasive sinus surgery using balloon dilation. The doctor inserts a small wire into the sinus and inflates a balloon. The inflated balloon helps to enlarge the opening to allow the sinuses to drain more easily.
The ENT surgeons at El Camino Health are experts in minimally invasive surgical techniques that result in shorter, more comfortable recovery for the patient and less damage to surrounding normal tissues.