What Are Sinuses and How Do They Get Infected?

There are millions of Americans suffering from sinusitis every year and we spend so much money on medications that promise relief of the symptoms.

Sinusitis is a condition where the sinuses become infected or inflamed.

Sinuses are simply hollow air spaces in the body. There are about 60 sinuses throughout the human body, but when you talk about the pain and symptoms of a "sinus attack", you are referring to the four pairs of sinuses known as the paranasal sinuses.

These sinuses are located in the skull surrounding the nose. The four pair includes:

1. Frontal sinuses are located over the eyes in the brow area
2. Maxillary sinuses are inside each cheekbone
3. Ethmoid sinuses are found behind the bridge of the nose and between the eyes
4. Sphenoid sinuses are deeper behind the ethmoids behind the eyes

Each sinus has an opening into the nose for the free exchange of air and mucus. To function normally and stay healthy, each sinus cavity must drain adequately and continuously and must contain air and have a free exchange of air with the nose.

Anything that causes swelling in the nose whether it be a infection or an allergy, can also affect the sinuses.
Air trapped within a blocked sinus, along with pus, may cause pressure on the sinus wall. Also when air is prevented from entering a paranasal sinus because of some blockage, a vacuum can be created which can be painful.

Where is your sinus pain? That depends on which sinus is affected. Pain when your forehead is touched may mean the frontal sinuses are inflamed.

If your upper jaw and teeth ache and your cheeks become tender to the touch, it may be your maxillary sinuses that are infected.

Pain around and between your eyes may indicate the ethmoid sinuses are inflamed. Earaches, neck pain and aching on top of your head could be inflammation of the sphenoid sinuses.

However, most people with sinusitis have pain in multiple locations. Other symptoms of sinusitis could be fever, weakness, heavy cough at night and congestion.

The postnasal drip may irritate the throat and upper windpipe. Rarely, severe complications cn be seen in sinusitis like brain infections.

Keeping it simple, sinusitis is either acute or chronic. Acute sinusitis usually starts with a common cold where the cold virus inflames the tissues. Typically both the cold and the sinus inflammation usually go away within a couple of weeks. The inflammation caused by a cold may cause congestion and swell the nasal passages.

When the sinus openings become too narrow they can not drain properly. The mucus builds up and becomes a perfect medium for bacterial growth. The upper respiratory tract contains bacteria like Streptococcus pneumonia and Haemophilus influenza which can invade the blocked sinus and multiply, causing an acute sinus infection.

Occasionally, fungal infections like Aspergillus can also cause acute sinusitis.

Chronic sinusitis is more difficult to determine. They are frequently the result of allergies, pollutants, immune status and asthma.

Diagnosis of acute sinusitis may include a physical examination, symptoms and occasionally CAT or MRI scans. If culture is required, aspiration of the sinus for culture is best.

You may be treated after diagnosis with decongestants, pain relievers and antibiotic if required.

For chronic sinusitis, steroid nasal sprays may be prescribed over long periods, however long term safety of these medications are not fully understood. Things you can do at home are inhaling steam and saline nasal spray to give some comfort.

Sometimes, surgery is the only way to treat chronic sinusitis. Removal of adenoids in children usually solves the problem. Frequently the adenoids block the nasal-sinus passages.