Acute and Chronic Sinusitis

Acute sinusitis is usually caused by a common cold (viral infection) and, unless a bacterial infection develops, most cases resolve within a week or two.  With acute sinusitis the spaces in your nose and head (sinuses) become inflamed and swollen.  This interferes with drainage and causes mucus to build up which makes it difficult to breathe through your nose.  Acute sinusitis also causes pain, tenderness, swelling and pressure around your eyes, cheeks, nose, and forehead that worsens when bending over. Other signs and symptoms include: ear pressure, post nasal drainage (drainage down the back of the throat), headache, altered sense of smell, cough, fatigue and fever.

Acute sinusitis can be treated with home remedies such as using nasal saline spray, over-the-counter decongestants and pain relievers, using a humidifier, placing a warm, wet towel on your face, sleeping with your head elevated, staying hydrated and avoiding chlorine pools.

Most people with acute sinusitis do not need to see a doctor.  However, a doctor should be contacted if any of the following symptoms occur:  symptoms that last more than a week or so or that worsen after seeming to improve, persistent fever or high fever, confusion, stiff neck and changes in vision.

Risk factors for acute sinusitis include allergic conditions, nasal passage abnormality, certain medical conditions such as an immune system disorder and exposure to cigarette smoke and pollution.

Although the infection can spread to the bones or the skin and to the eye socket which will cause vision problems, complications are uncommon and serious complications are rare.

To help reduce the risk of getting acute sinusitis, use a humidifier, avoid cigarette smoke, manage allergies, and wash hands frequently with soap and water, especially before meals.

Chronic sinusitis

Chronic sinusitis, also called chronic rhinosinusitis, is usually caused by an infection, growths in the sinuses (nasal polyps) or swelling of the lining of your sinuses. With chronic sinusitis the spaces inside your nose and head (sinuses) are swollen and inflamed for months or longer, despite treatment.  This condition interferes with the way mucus normally drains, and breathing through the nose becomes difficult.  The area around the eyes, cheeks, nose, and forehead will feel swollen, tender and painful.  Other common symptoms of chronic sinusitis include:  thick, discolored discharge from the nose, postnasal drainage (drainage down the back of the throat), cough, sore throat, fatigue, and a reduced sense of smell and taste.

A doctor should be consulted if sinusitis symptoms last more than ten days and if the condition does not respond to treatment.

A serious infection is indicated by the following signs and symptoms and a doctor should be consulted immediately:  fever, swelling or redness around the eyes, severe headache, forehead swelling, stiff neck, confusion, and double vision or other vision changes.

Risk factors for chronic sinusitis include nasal polyps, deviated septum, asthma, immune system disorders, allergic conditions and exposure to cigarette smoke and pollution.

Serious complications of chronic sinusitis are rare however, the infection can spread to the bones or the skin and to the eye socket which will cause vision problems. 

To help reduce the risk of getting chronic sinusitis manage your allergies, avoid cigarette smoke, use a humidifier, and wash your hands frequently with soap and water. 

Chronic sinusitis and acute sinusitis have similar signs and symptoms, but acute sinusitis is a temporary infection of the sinuses often brought on by a cold. The signs and symptoms of chronic sinusitis last at least 12 weeks and it is possible to have several episodes of acute sinusitis before developing chronic sinusitis. Fever isn’t a common sign of chronic sinusitis, but you might have one with acute sinusitis.

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