Nobody likes the throbbing headaches, discomfort, piles of Kleenex, and congested nose associated with sinus issues. Unfortunately, sinus infections affect close to 30 million people every year in the United States alone.
For a long time, experts administered antibiotics to purge the infections, which they believed were the main cause of sinusitis. Unfortunately, a lot of patients relapsed, forcing clinicians and researchers to question this assumption.
More insight has emerged in the last decade, as researchers have taken a step back and realized that chronic sinusitis is more of an inflammatory disease. This explains why in most cases antibiotics do not help much.
What are the root causes of sinus issues?
In order to understand what causes sinusitis, it is important to understand what sinuses are and what they do. Sinuses are cavities in bones or tissues that connect to the nasal cavity. When your sinuses are working perfectly, they help in the production of mucus that traps dander, pollen, and dust. These sinuses then drain the mucus through small openings into the nasal passages. The mucus travels to the back of your throat where you swallow it. The lining of your sinuses can produce at least a quart of mucus in a single day. However, when a person has sinusitis, their nasal cavity and sinuses become swollen or inflamed, blocking the drainage of all this mucus.
The result of this blockage is a stuffed nose that makes every breath a struggle. A lot of pressure and pain builds up around the eyes and the face, and this may result in painful headaches and even toothaches. The patient also produces large amounts of yellow or green mucus. The following are the main causes of sinus issues:
Viral and bacterial infections
One of the main causes of sinus inflammation is a viral or bacterial infection. Viruses can cause the sinuses to swell shut, making it impossible to drain mucus. The openings of the sinuses are actually as small as the lead of a pencil, and inflammation can cause a lot of issues. Mucus is warm and moist, and the nasal cavities are dark, creating the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. If the infection is caused by bacteria, a round of antibiotics and steroids can help alleviate the symptoms.
Anatomical and structural issues
Allergies and nasal polyps are two other major causes of sinus issues. Nasal polyps are fleshy, non-cancerous, teardrop-shaped growths that form in the sinuses or nose. Most nasal polyps are linked to allergic reactions and asthma. These allergies irritate the delicate lining of the mucus membrane and make nasal polyps worse. When the polyps become large enough, they block drainage of mucus, resulting in sinus pain and infections.
Frequent scuba-diving or flying can result in sinus issues due to the constant changes in air pressure and altitude. Another cause is the abuse of nasal decongestants, which can dry out excess mucus, causing your nasal passages to produce even more mucus. The excess mucus production can result in poor drainage and sinus pain.
Smoking also increases your chances of getting sinus infections. This is because smoking damages your cilia, which are the tiny hair-like structures in your nose. Once the cilia are damaged, mucus doesn’t flow properly and becomes backed up in the sinuses. The mucus back-up creates a breeding ground for bacteria, which results in infections.
Understanding the root causes of sinusitis is the best way to alleviate the symptoms and treat the condition. Your doctor can examine you to determine the exact cause of your infection.
Dr. Dedo is triple board certified in ear, nose and throat and facial/cosmetic surgery. He has been fully accredited by the AAAHC for 37 years. This accreditation affords patients the assurance of safety and credibility. If you are experiencing any troubles with your ears, nose, or throat, contact us today for a thorough evaluation.