The terms "sinus infection" and "sinusitis" are terms commonly used by patients, pharmaceuticals, media and providers alike. While studies have supported that tens of millions of Americans suffer from sinus-related troubles with health care expenditures related to sinus-disease exceeding 5 billion dollars annually in the US, sinus disease remains a confusing problem for many patients. With both over and under treatment commonplace, this entry is intended to shed some light on a common problem.
WHAT ARE THE SINUSES?
Sinuses are hollows in the bones of the skull that are lined with membranes, serving as part of the complex nasal system that filters and humidifies the air we breathe. There are two cheek (maxillary) sinuses, two forehead (frontal) sinuses, two sphenoid sinuses (deepest in the skull) and multiple ethmoid sinuses (between the eyes).
WHAT ARE SYMPTOMS OF SINUS DISEASE?
When the lining of the sinuses becomes inflamed, patients experience many different types of symptoms. The most common being:
-nasal obstruction (cannot breathe through nose)
-worsening smell and/or taste
-pressure/pain/fullness in the face
-upper teeth pain
Because many of the above symptoms can overlap with other conditions, the symptom alone is only part of the story. Correctly diagnosing sinus disease is best done by a specialist who is capable of coordinating your history, physical exam findings and other tests. Once this information is gathered, you and your doctor will design a plan to best address the problem. Patients often assume they need antibiotics or surgery, but the reality is many other issues often need to be addressed, without which patients will continue to struggle with their symptoms:
-Viral Illnesses (common colds): can mimic sinus disease and prompt treatment with antibiotics that are not only ineffective, but can cause side effects because of the medications themselves.
-Headaches: often described a "sinus headache" by patients. In reality, facial pain/pressure in the absence of nasal congestion or discolored drainage from the nose is unlikely to be associated with true sinus disease. Migraine headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) troubles and dental issues are more common in this group and can be distinguished as the root cause by an experienced specialist.
Seasonal or Environmental Allergies: Often overlooked by patients and providers alike. Sneezing, itchy/watery eyes, itchy/stuffy ears, nasal congestion, runny nose down the front or back (post nasal drip) and a history of eczema are all very suggestive of allergies. Allergies commonly both mimic sinus disease, and more importantly, prevent patients from feeling their best if overlooked.
Acid Reflux: Stomach acid that comes up the esophagus commonly contributes to symptoms associated with sinusitis such as post nasal drip and thick phlegm in the throat. Acid reflux is treated differently than sinusitis, so making the appropriate diagnosis is necessary to correctly treat the underlying problem.
WHERE TO GO FROM HERE
Every patient is different. The history of the problem, course of symptoms, treatment options and response are never one-size-fit-all. If you are struggling with symptoms of sinus disease, we would be happy to visit with you and start you on the path of feeling better. Give our office a call today.