Sinusitis, a common condition affecting millions of people each year, is the swelling of the tissue in the sinus cavities. It often causes trouble breathing, headache, and runny nose, among other symptoms, and it in turn is usually caused by a viral infection such as a cold. It can also be caused by bacteria, or structural changes that can block the sinus cavities, like growths called “polyps,” or a problem with the “wall” between the nostrils (a “deviated septum”).
Sometimes, a person suffering from sinusitis doesn’t realize the sinuses are inflamed right away. But then, they’re flying on an airplane, driving up a mountain, or just leaning forward or bending down, and suddenly feel a piercing, squeezing feeling, or pressure within the sinuses.
Allergies, colds, and upper respiratory infections often have similar symptoms as sinusitis, and the conditions are often mistaken for one another.
To further complicate matters, physicians typically cannot diagnose sinusitis based on symptoms alone. They may need to examine the nasal swelling or inflammation. To do this, they often insert a small camera, called an endoscope, up the nose into the sinuses to get a better view. They might also order a type of X-ray called a CT scan to assess the level of inflammation.
Sinusitis can be classified a few different ways:
- acute sinusitis, a one-time case which gets better within about four weeks.
- subacute sinusitis, which lasts between four and eight weeks.
- chronic sinusitis, which lasts more than twelve weeks.
- recurrent acute sinusitis, which lasts less than two weeks but occurs three times or more within a year.
The symptoms of sinusitis
The common symptoms of sinusitis can be the same, regardless of which type you have. They are caused by swollen sinus tissue, creation of excess mucus that travels down the throat and causes a cough, and narrowed sinus passages causing a backup of mucus—since it can’t drain—that increases pressure and causes pain.
- pain in the forehead, teeth, and cheeks, and between or behind the eyes;
- stuffed-up nose;
- mucus that runs out of the nose or down the throat, particularly if it’s not clear in color;
- sore throat; and
If you suffer from sinusitis symptoms, it’s a good idea to see your doctor. After examining you and determining the cause of your symptoms, they may recommend rest, drinking lots of fluids, and using over-the-counter decongestants. If the symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, or if they are severe, a visit to an ENT physician may help you to get more advanced treatment. Talk to your doctor for more information.
 National Health Interview 2012