Sinuses are hollow areas within the skull.
The largest sinus cavities (maxillary sinuses) are located in the cheekbones. Lined with soft tissue called mucosa, sinuses are also found in the lower part of the forehead (frontal sinuses). The sphenoid sinuses are the ones located in the nose that connect to the nasal passageways. Ethmoid sinuses are between the eyes.
- Except for a thin layer of mucus, healthy sinus cavities should be empty to allow for sufficient airflow.
- When something blocks one or more sinus cavities, you may need to be evaluated by an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
Why Are Sinuses Important?
Sinuses help filter the air you breathe. It’s believed sinuses may also play a role in enhancing your voice. If any of the sinus cavities are blocked, airflow can be restricted, which may contribute to an assortment of respiratory problems. Blocked sinuses can also cause a feeling of pressure around the nose, in the cheeks, or around the eyes and forehead. Most sinus issues can be managed with medication or the avoidance of allergy triggers. Even if you don’t have serious sinus problems, it can be beneficial to have your sinuses checked so potential issues can be detected early.
What Are Common Causes of Sinus Problems?
One of the most common causes of sinus-related symptoms is a serve sinus infection (acute sinusitis), which may result in increased mucus production, headaches, and nasal congestion. If sinuses are constantly inflamed for three months or more, it’s referred to as chronic sinusitis (chronic rhinosinusitis). Sinus problems may also result from:
- A deviated septum
- Hay fever (allergic rhinitis)
- Nasal polyps
- Enlarged nasal septum ridges (turbinate hypertophy)
What Sinus Tests May Be Performed?
Many people assume that sinus symptoms are related to the common cold or headaches from other sources. However, untreated sinus infections can lead to further complications and worsening symptoms. Generally, it’s best to seek medical attention when symptoms linger or become increasingly more severe. Following an initial examination and a review of your medical history, an ENT doctor usually performs several tests to pinpoint the likely source of your sinus problem and role out other issues.
Involving the use of a lighted scope with an attached camera, a nasal endoscopy may be performed to view the nasal passages and sinus cavities to look for causes of blockages, inflammation, or irritation. Testing may also include a CT scan or MRI, sinus X-rays, and sinus cultures using a collected mucus sample. Allergy testing may also be done.
How Are Sinus Problems Treated?
Surgery for sinus problem is usually a last resort unless symptoms are severe and potentially life-threatening. Treatment efforts typically include the use of antibiotics to treat bacterial infections, antihistamines to control hay fever or allergy symptoms, and decongestants to reduce mucus production and post-nasal drip. Patients may also benefit from:
- Saline sprays to break up and dry mucus
- Steroid sprays to help reduce tissue swelling
- Nasal washes to clear nasal passages and sinus cavities
- Surgery to remove growths or blockages
Not all sinus irritations or blockages can be avoided. However, you can make an effort to keep your sinuses healthy by avoiding common irritants like cigarette smoke, car exhaust fumes, and exposure to certain chemicals that may affect the lining of your sinus cavities. If you have sinusitis, nasal infections, allergies, or any other condition that could cause sinus problems, an ENT doctor can recommend ways to treat or manage symptoms after an accurate diagnosis is made.