Acute Sinusitis: Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, Complications, Diagnosis, Management, Prevention and Home Remedies

There are cavities (air pockets) around your nasal passages known as sinuses. In acute sinusitis, these sinuses become acutely inflamed and swollen, leading to mucus build up due to interference of drainage. It may also be difficult to breathe through your nose and area around your eyes and face may become swollen and there may also be throbbing headache or facial pain.

Most commonly, acute sinusitis is caused by common cold (due to virus). Other causes of acute sinusitis include bacterial infection, fungal infection (less common) and allergy. Treatment depends on the cause of the problem. If not adequately treated it may become chronic sinusitis (acute sinusitis that last for more than eight weeks or if it recurs frequently is termed chronic sinusitis).

What are the symptoms of acute sinusitis?

Symptoms of acute sinusitis include.

  • Nasal congestion and obstruction, leading to breathing problems through nose
  • Cough, may be worse at night
  • Greenish or yellowish discharge from nose or back through throat
  • Swelling, pain and tenderness (pain on pressure) around eyes, forehead, nose or cheeks
  • Sense of smell and taste may be reduced.
  • Headache, earache
  • Fever
  • Halitosis or bad breath
  • Pain in upper jaw and/or teeth
  • Fatigue, which may be due to dehydration

You should consult your doctor, if symptoms last for more than few days or if you have fever, recurrent acute sinusitis, severe headache and other symptoms that trouble you.

What are the causes of acute sinusitis?

Causes of acute sinusitis include:

  • Viral infection: this is the most common cause of acute sinusitis and usually by common cold virus.
  • Bacterial infection: it less common than viral infection. However, sometimes bacterial infection may superimpose on viral infection and complicate the situation. Usually bacterial infection leads to symptoms lasting for more than 10 days.
  • Fungal infection: may occur if you have weak immune system or abnormality in sinuses
  • Allergy: this is a common cause of acute sinusitis. Common allergy include house dust, pollen etc.
  • Deviated nasal septum (DNS): a crooked nasal septum may cause frequent acute sinusitis due to anatomical abnormality.
  • Nasal polyp: growth of polyp may lead to blockage of nasal passage and sinusitis.
  • Other causes of acute sinusitis include, tooth infection, GERD, immune system problem, cystic fibrosis etc.

What are the risk factors of developing acute sinusitis?

The following conditions may increase risk of developing acute sinusitis:

  • Abnormality of nasal passage due to DNS or deviated nasal septum (a common cause of chronic sinusitis), nasal polyp, or tumor
  • Allergy, including hay fever or other allergic conditions that affect para-nasal sinuses
  • Exposure to pollutants/irritants such as cigarette smoke.
  • Certain medical conditions such as GERD, cystic fibrosis, immune system abnormality etc.

What are the possible complications of acute sinusitis?

Possible complications include,

  • Chronic sinusitis: this is the most common complication of acute sinusitis. Once, it becomes chronic, it becomes very difficult to cure/manage.
  • Flare-up of asthma
  • Ear infection is another complication of acute sinusitis.
  • Meningitis
  • Infection may spread to eye socket, which lead to vision problem, and need immediate treatment as it is a medical emergency.

Diagnosis of acute sinusitis:

Diagnosis of acute sinusitis involves proper physical examination. To help diagnosis, your doctor may also ask for imaging (such as CT or MRI), nasal endoscopy, allergy testing, culture and antibiotic sensitivity of nasal and sinus secretions.

Management of acute sinusitis:

Treatment of acute sinusitis depends on the cause of the sinusitis. Most commonly it is due to viral infection that also causes common cold. Hence, home remedies done for common cold also useful in such cases and usually may not require anything else to be done.

However, if acute sinusitis is caused by bacterial or fungal infection may require appropriate antibiotic and anti-fungal therapy. If the cause is due to allergic condition and there is frequent incidence of acute sinusitis, it may require immunotherapy.

For symptomatic relief of acute sinusitis, the following can be of help:

  • Nasal decongestants: these drugs available over the counter (such as oxymetazoline) help in reducing nasal congestion. They are available as nasal drops or as nasal spray. These are commonly used for few days, because prolong use may cause side effects, such as rebound congestion.
  • Corticosteroid nasal spray, for action locally is also used for symptomatic relief from acute sinusitis.
  • Saline nasal spray to rinse nasal passage.
  • Over the counter pain medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil) etc. are also helpful in acute sinusitis.

How to prevent acute sinusitis?

Following steps are useful in preventing acute sinusitis,

  • Avoid common cold and upper respiratory tract infection. Wash hands frequently with soap and water, especially after contact with persons suffering from cold. Best, if you could avoid persons suffering from cold.
  • Avoid cigarette smoke and other air pollutants that irritate respiratory system, including sinuses.
  • Use humidifier if you live in dry area or if your home is dry. Dryness cause nasal mucosa to crack and lead to infection and acute sinusitis.
  • Manage properly if you suffer from allergic condition.

Home remedies for acute sinusitis:

Following home remedies for sinusitis can be tried:

  • Drink plenty of fluid: to keep one hydrated one need to drink plenty of fluid such as water, fruit juice, oral rehydration salt, or other drink. Well hydration help in keeping mucosal secretions thin and easy to remove. Avoid beverages that may cause dehydration such as caffeine, alcohol etc.
  • Take plenty of rest
  • Drape a towel over your head and inhale water vapor from a hot water bowl/pan. Alternately take a hot shower. This will moisten nasal cavities and help drain mucous.
  • Sleep with head elevated to help drain sinuses during sleep.
  • Rinse your nasal passage with saline spray or plain water or distilled water.
  • To prevent facial pain, put a warm, damp towel over your face.

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