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Sinusitis and asthma

Sinusitis is a painful condition where the sinuses behind the cheeks and forehead get blocked. Many people get this after a cold, but for people with asthma this can also be a common condition.

Allergies are one of the triggers for sinusitis. The organisation for ear, nose and throat specialists, ENT UK says chronic sinusitis is sometimes associated with asthma.

As allergies are responsible for asthma in some people, nasal stuffiness and blockages can make asthma more difficult to control.

Research suggests as many as half of all people with moderate to severe asthma also have chronic sinusitis.

Without the right treatment, sinusitis, or sinus infections can last for months or even years.

However, there are lots of treatments available for both sinus infections and asthma. Studies show that treating one condition often helps relieve symptoms of the other. The key is to treat both conditions appropriately.

What is sinusitis?

While there are many sinuses in your body, the term is often used to refer to the paranasal sinuses. These are a group of four hollow cavities in your face, near the cheeks and eyes. They're connected to the nasal passageways and help warm up, moisten and filter the air you breathe. Sinusitis is the swelling or infection of these sinuses.

Just like the lining of your nose, the sinuses can become irritated and swollen by allergens, viruses, or bacterial infection. Common triggers of sinusitis include:

  • A cold or viral infection
  • Air pollution, smog
  • Airborne allergens
  • Dry or cold air
  • Ozone

When the tissue in the sinuses gets irritated, it produces mucus. If enough mucus and trapped air builds up, you feel painful pressure in the sinuses. These are the familiar signs of a sinus headache.

Symptoms of sinusitis vary, depending on which sinuses are affected. But some common signs are pain in these areas:

  • Forehead
  • Upper jaw and teeth
  • Area around the eyes
  • Neck, ear, and on the top of the head

Severe sinusitis can also cause:

  • Thick yellow or green mucus
  • Bad-tasting post-nasal drip
  • Sore throat
  • High temperature
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Cough

Usually, sinus infections are caused by viruses, like a cold virus. But if the sinuses have been blocked for too long, bacteria can invade, causing a secondary infection. Having multiple sinus infections can lead to chronic (long-term) sinusitis.

What's the connection between sinusitis and asthma?

Many studies show a connection between sinus infections and asthma. One 2006 study showed that, when compared with those who only have asthma, people who have both sinusitis and asthma:

  • Tend to have more severe  asthma symptoms
  • May have more severe asthma flare-ups
  • Are more likely to have disturbed sleep

The risks of developing sinusitis may not be the same for everyone with asthma. The same 2006 study showed that sinusitis coupled with asthma was more common in women than men. It also may be more common in white people than other racial groups. Acid reflux ( GORD) and  smoking may increase the risk of someone with asthma developing sinusitis, too.

The study also suggested that the more severe a person's asthma is, the more debilitating the sinusitis. In people with severe asthma, sinusitis seems to make the asthma symptoms harder to control.

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