What is sinusitis?
Sinusitis is an inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the sinuses. These membranes are air-filled tubes and pockets behind the nose, cheeks, and forehead. It can be very painful.
The inflammation causes swelling, which obstructs the drainage of the sinuses, which can lead to bacterial infection. Such infections can spread around the head and respiratory passages.
It is a common complaint, with 5-10% of the American population suffering from sinusitis each year, and 90% of adults having had an episode at some time in their life. (1)
Symptoms of sinusitis
- Pain around the face, nose and above the eyes.
- A feeling of fullness or tightness around the face, which may worsen when bending over or lying down.
- Congestion with thick green or yellow discharge.
- Headache. Studies suggest that up to 90% of sinus headaches are actually migraines. (4,5)
- Night time coughing.
- An increase in previously minor or controlled asthma symptoms.
- A feeling of malaise.
- Toothache or jaw pain.
- Halitosis (bad breath) or a foul taste in the mouth.
- A feeling of fever, although fever is not a symptom of sinusitis.
Causes of sinusitis
- Viral infection. Most minor cases of sinusitis are due to a viral infection, and resolve within 7-10 days. (2)
- Bacterial infection. About 30-50% of cases. Bacterial sinusitis is more persistent, with most cases taking weeks or months to resolve. In a few cases, nasal fluid from nose blowing caused secondary bacterial infection. (3) Bacterial biofilms may be involved in most cases of chronic sinusitis. A biofilm is a complex aggregate of inter-dependent microorganisms from multiple species that cement themselves together for protection. Biofilms are difficult to physically remove, and are antibiotic resistant. One study found biofilms in the mucus of 75% of patients undergoing surgery for chronic sinusitis. (6)
- Fungal infection. Although a variety of fungi exist in everyone's nasal passages, fungal sinus infections are typically seen in patients with diabetes or immune deficiencies. An acute fungal infection is serious, and can even be life-threatening.
- Chemical irritation. Most often from cigarette smoke or chlorine fumes.
- Abnormally narrow sinus passages can impede drainage from the sinus cavities. This may be caused by a deviated septum (bent nose or nasal passages).
- Nasal polyps.
- Tooth infection. Only in rare cases.
- Cold, polluted, or smoky atmosphere.
- Dairy products, especially pasteurised milk, some cheeses, and ice cream.
- Strong nose blowing.
Remedies / treatment for sinusitis
- View remedies & comments contributed by visitors to Grow Youthful's Ailments & Remedies pages.
- Nasal saline irrigation. (7)
- Make a tea by boiling one teaspoon of fenugreek seeds in a cup of water. Let it steep for 20 minutes. Drink 3 - 4 cups daily. This will relieve congestion. Fennel seeds may also be used. Fenugreek is usually the most effective, but try both or a mix of the two.
- Drink plenty of water to keep your mucus thin.
- Get plenty of sleep. Sleep with your head raised, and on your back. Sleep on one side if it helps to make breathing easier.
- Put a warm, moist washcloth over the face for 5 to 10 minutes several times a day to relieve pain.
- Steam inhalation. Put a cup or two of boiling water in a bowl, and add 3 - 5 drops of eucalyptus oil. Cover your head with a towel, lean over the bowl and inhale the steam. Do this 2-4 times per day.
- Mix 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder with enough water to make a paste. Spread the paste on the skin of the head to relieve a sinus headache.
Doctors may prescribe antibiotics, corticosteroids, or surgery. All these options have severe consequences or side-effects and should not be taken lightly. Before undertaking any of these options cultures should be taken to identify the microorganisms involved in the infection. Anti-fungals have been used with mixed success in the treatment of some infections.
Warning: if you are considering taking an over-the-counter or prescription medication such as pain relievers Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen and allergy medications for sinus allergy. These medications are hard on the liver, often creating more mucus as it tries to excrete them from your body. Sometimes these medications actually make the sinus condition worse in the long term. If you are going to take one, note the colour, amount and thickness of your mucus before you start the medication. Within twelve hours after you start, if there is more mucus or it gets thicker or yellow, then you know that it is harmful.
1. Pearlman AN, Conley DB.
Review of current guidelines related to the diagnosis and treatment of rhinosinusitis.
Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2008 Jun;16(3):226-30.
2. Leung RS, Katial R. The diagnosis and management of acute and chronic sinusitis. Prim Care. 2008 Mar;35(1):11-24, v-vi. Article
3. Jack M. Gwaltney Jr, J. Owen Hendley, C. Douglas Phillips, Cameron R. Bass, Niels Mygind, Birgit Winther. Nose Blowing Propels Nasal Fluid into the Paranasal Sinuses. Oxford Journals, Volume 30, Issue 2 Pp. 387-391. Article
4. Schreiber CP, Hutchinson S, Webster CJ, Ames M, Richardson MS, Powers C. Prevalence of migraine in patients with a history of self-reported or physician-diagnosed "sinus" headache. Arch Intern Med. 2004 Sep 13;164(16):1769-72. Article
5. Mehle ME, Schreiber CP. Sinus headache, migraine, and the otolaryngologist. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2005 Oct;133(4):489-96. Article
6. Sanclement JA, Webster P, Thomas J, Ramadan HH. Bacterial biofilms in surgical specimens of patients with chronic rhinosinusitis. Laryngoscope. 2005 Apr;115(4):578-82. Article
7. Harvey R, Hannan SA, Badia L, Scadding G. Nasal saline irrigations for the symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jul 18;(3):CD006394. Article