How chronic sinusitis affects quality of life and the role of sinus surgery

Breathing is fundamental and usually automatic. If you’re doing it right, you don’t notice it. If your breathing goes wrong, though, you realize it pretty quickly. It may cause discomfort, disrupt sleep, and limit the kind of activities you can perform.

Studies have been performed to figure out just how much chronic sinusitis—that is, sinusitis that doesn’t go away within a few weeks, but rather becomes an ongoing problem—affects quality of life, and in what ways. (Sinusitis is also called rhinosinusitis by ear-nose-throat specialist doctors, because inflammation of the nose and sinuses almost always go together.[1]

Symptoms of chronic sinusitis

Chronic sinusitis causes several symptoms, including:[2]

  • stuffy or congested nose
  • thick discharge from the nose
  • pressure or discomfort in the face
  • reduced or no sense of smell or taste

When sinusitis is persistent and these symptoms do not go away or even worsen, they can affect the patient’s ability to fully participate in and enjoy daily activities, significantly lowering quality of life. The most common reason patients undergo surgery for sinus disorders is to improve their quality of life.[3]

The researchers’ findings

One study, published in 2010 in Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, the official peer-reviewed medical journal published by the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, tracked the quality of life for 302 patients from July 2004 to December 2008.[4] The author found that according to two scales commonly used to measure patient quality of life,[5] a large majority of patients who reported low scores experienced significant improvement following surgery. In other words, for these 302 people, most of their lives were made better by endoscopic sinus surgery.

Another study[6] was published in 2015 in JAMA Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, the American Medical Association’s peer-reviewed journal for research on ear, nose, and throat medicine. This study set out to determine whether obstructive sleep apnea negatively affected the lives of people also suffering from chronic sinusitis, specifically if it made their sinusitis symptoms worse. As the authors noted, “Patients with chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) have reduced sleep quality linked to their overall well-being and disease-specific quality of life (QOL).”

The study measured quality of life before and after sinus surgery. The researchers found “significant postoperative improvement” in quality of life in patients both with and without sleep apnea.

The impact

Disrupted sleep, constant discomfort, and inability to fully focus on or perform daily tasks are serious consequences of chronic sinusitis. The disorder is treatable, however, and symptoms are often reduced following treatment. An ear-nose-and-throat specialist doctor, also known as an otolaryngologist or ENT, is specially trained to assist patients with continuous or repeated sinus disorders.

Talk to your doctor for more information.