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Sinusitis: Acute and chronic

What is sinusitis?

Sinusitis is a condition describing the inflammation and swelling of the lining of the sinuses.

This often results from a virus, bacterium, or fungus causing a sinus infection of the sinus cavities, which are located behind your cheekbones and forehead.

Symptoms of sinusitis include nasal congestion, runny nose, facial pain, fever and headache.

Conditions that increase the risk of sinusitis include the common cold, hayfever and other allergies, nasal polyps and cystic fibrosis.

The sinuses can also be aggravated by smoking, and changes in the weather involving air pressure can also affect the condition.

Types of sinusitis

There are three different types of sinusitis including:

  • Acute sinusitis: A sudden onset of cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, stuffy nose, and facial pain that typically lasts no more than a week but can last longer.
  • Chronic sinusitis: A condition characterised by sinus inflammation symptoms lasting more than 12 weeks. Also known as chronic rhinosinusitis.
  • Recurrent sinusitis: Several attacks within a year.

Who gets sinusitis and sinus infections?

Millions of people have at least one episode of sinusitis each year. People who develop the following conditions have a higher risk of sinusitis:

  • Nasal mucous membrane swelling as from a common cold
  • Blockage of drainage ducts
  • Structural changes that narrow the drainage ducts
  • Conditions that result in an increased risk of infection such as immune deficiencies or taking medications that suppress the immune system.

In children common environmental factors that contribute to sinusitis include allergies, illness from other children at day care or school, dummies, bottle drinking while lying on one's back, and smoke in the environment.

In adults the contributing factors are most frequently smoking and viral infections, only occasionally do bacterial infections cause sinusitis. Pollution, allergies, and sometimes an infected tooth can lead to inflamed sinuses.

If your sinuses are inflamed air travel may prove painful. During a flight the air pressure in the cabin changes and the pressure in our sinuses should change to match it. However, if they are blocked or inflamed this process is impeded and the unequal pressure can cause pain.

Signs and symptoms of acute and chronic sinusitis

The primary symptoms of sinusitis include:

  • Facial pain and pressure
  • Nasal stuffiness, obstruction, and blockage
  • Nasal discharge that is green or yellow
  • Pus in nasal cavity
  • Discoloured post-nasal drip
  • Loss of smell
  • Headaches
  • Cough and congestion
  • Fever (mild or severe)
  • Bad breath
  • Fatigue
  • Dental pain

Acute sinusitis may be diagnosed when a person has two or more symptoms and/or the presence of thick, green or yellow nasal discharge. You should expect acute sinusitis to last about two and a half weeks.

People with chronic sinusitis may experience symptoms for 12 weeks or more.

People suffering from recurrent sinusitis will experience symptoms more than 2 or 3 times per year.

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