Sinusitis is when the tissue in the sinus cavities is swollen or inflamed. It can be caused by a few conditions. The most common is a viral infection, such as a cold, that does not go away. Bacteria, allergies, or other causes may be responsible.
Chronic sinusitis, also called chronic rhinosinusitis, is a particularly persistent type of sinusitis. If it lasts for more than 12 weeks, it’s considered chronic sinusitis, whereas if it is an isolated case that goes away on its own within a few weeks, it is called acute sinusitis (short-term cases that come back several times a year are called acute recurrent sinusitis).
Chronic sinusitis can affect your quality of life. It may cause discomfort, trouble breathing through your nose, problems sleeping, and other issues. If you have persistent sinus problems, you may benefit from having them treated by a doctor.
How chronic sinusitis is diagnosed
The first step in figuring out whether you have chronic sinusitis is to see a medical professional. Your primary care doctor or nurse practitioner will examine your sinuses, ask you questions about your condition, and conduct any other procedures that may be necessary.
After discussing your symptoms with you, your physician will typically need to visually examine your sinuses to confirm that you have sinus inflammation. To do this, they often insert a small camera, called an endoscope, up your nose to get a better view of your sinuses. They might also order a type of X-ray called a CT scan to assess the level of inflammation.
If you have chronic sinusitis, your care provider will likely advise you on the next step to take.Common recommendations include:
- using a humidifier, taking hot showers, or boiling water on the stove to inhale the warm, humid air;
- using over-the-counter medicines; and
- saline (salt-water) nasal irrigation kits to flush out the sinus cavities
If you do have chronic sinusitis, your care provider may provide you with other recommendations, depending on the details of your unique case.
What to do for chronic sinusitis
Many treat chronic sinusitis only when symptoms flare up, particularly when it occurs due to a cold or allergies. This can be confusing and frustrating for sufferers, because, if it’s truly chronic sinusitis, symptoms won’t go away entirely, or they may seem to go completely away but come back again and again.
If you suffer from chronic sinus infections, you may need to see an ENT specialist, also called an ear, nose, and throat doctor or an otolaryngologist. These specialist physicians are experts in the medical and surgical management of chronic sinusitis, and are well qualified to determine the cause and appropriate treatment of your sinus condition.
Sinus surgery can be an effective treatment for chronic sinusitis because the diseased or obstructive tissue is removed from the sinuses. However, ongoing inflammation and scarring following surgery can block sinuses again, necessitating further treatment. Talk to your doctor for more information.