How is a sinus infection diagnosed?

November 08th, 2017

Sinus infections are common, but if they don’t go away quickly on their own, they can require medical attention. The first step to appropriate treatment is accurate diagnosis, which is performed by a doctor.

Who diagnoses a sinus infection?

Most patients with sinus symptoms are initially treated by their primary care doctor. In some cases, such as with particularly severe, recurring, or long-lasting symptoms, patients are referred to ear-nose-throat (ENT) doctors. ENT doctors are specialists in diagnosing and treating afflictions such as sinus disorders.

What do they look for?

During your appointment for your sinus condition, the doctor will ask questions about your condition and perform a physical examination. The doctor will be listening for certain telling symptoms as you respond to their questions, and will also be looking for physical symptoms while examining you.

If the doctor does determine that you have swelling or inflammation of the sinuses, also known as sinusitis,[1] they’ll want to know more. There are three types of sinusitis: acute, recurrent, and chronic. The doctor will need to determine which type you have, as chronic sinusitis is less likely than acute sinusitis to go away on its own.[2],[3] Usually, acute sinusitis will clear up on its own or with the help of over-the-counter remedies, but chronic sinusitis may need further treatment. They have similar symptoms, but acute sinusitis doesn’t last as long, often follows a cold, and is more likely to cause fever.[4],[5],[6]

For chronic sinusitis to be diagnosed, certain criteria must be met. The tissue inside the nose must be inflamed, and at least two of the following four primary chronic sinusitis symptoms must be present.[5] The condition must persist for 12 weeks or longer to be considered chronic.

  • blockage or congestion in the nose, making it hard to breathe through the nose
  • thick, discolored discharge that comes from the nose or drains down the throat
  • pain, tenderness, and swelling around the eyes, cheeks, nose, or forehead
  • reduced sense of smell and taste (adults)

Additionally, a diagnosis of chronic sinusitis requires visual evidence of swelling or inflammation.[1] In order to do this, the doctor may order a CT scan, which is a type of X-ray that can be used to get a three-dimensional image of the sinuses. The CT scan can show whether the sinuses are blocked or inflamed, which assists in diagnosing a sinus infection.[3] Doctors can also insert an endoscope, a small flexible camera, into the nostril and look at the sinuses on a TV screen. The American Rhinologic Society says endoscopy has become the standard method for evaluating sinus infections.[7]

Sinus infection vs other conditions with similar symptoms

Each sinus condition is unique, but your ENT specialist will have extensive experience determining what exact condition you have whether it’s allergies, a common cold, or sinus infection and what the best course of action is. If you have sinus symptoms that aren’t going away or that keep returning, a visit to the ENT may be the next appropriate step to take so you can get the appropriate evaluation and treatment.

Talk with your doctor for more information.


Why find an ENT physician ?

If you suffer from chronic sinus infections, you may need to see an ENT physician, who is also called an ear, nose, and throat doctor or an otolaryngologist. These specialized physicians are experts in both the medical and surgical management of chronic sinusitis.

Intersect ENT makes information about physicians and facilities that offer PROPEL® sinus stents available. Physicians and facilities are listed based upon proximity to the zip code you have entered.

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Safety Information

The purpose of the site is to help create awareness about sinusitis and treatment options for the disease. Please note that information contained on this site is not medical advice. It should not be used as a substitute for speaking with your physician. Always talk with your physician about diagnosis and treatment information.

The PROPEL sinus implants are intended for use after sinus surgery to maintain patency and to locally deliver steroids to the sinus mucosa: PROPEL for use in the ethmoid sinus, PROPEL Mini for use in the ethmoid sinus and frontal sinus opening, and PROPEL Contour for use in the frontal and maxillary sinus ostia. The implants are intended for use in patients ≥18 years of age. Contraindications include patients with intolerance to mometasone furoate (MF) or a hypersensitivity to bioabsorbable polymers. Safety and effectiveness of the implants in pregnant or nursing females have not been studied. Risks may include, but are not limited to, pain/pressure, displacement of implant, possible side effects of intranasal MF, sinusitis, epistaxis, and infection. For complete prescribing information see IFU at www.IntersectENT.com. Rx only.

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