Treating a Sinus Infection
What is sinusitis? It's inflammation of the air cavities. A sinus infection occurs when a microorganism grows within a sinus and causes blockage. The human skull contains four major pairs of hollow air-filled cavities that are the facial sinuses. They are connected to the space between the nostrils and the nasal passage. The sinuses function as insulation of surrounding structures, such as eyes and nerves, and act as a buffer against facial trauma. They increase voice resonance and decrease the weight of the skull. When sinuses become blocked and filled with fluid, germs can grow and cause an infection.
A common cold, allergies, chemical irritation and polyps can cause sinus blockage. Sinusitis is very common — so common in fact, over 30 million Americans suffer with at least one episode each year. Symptoms may include headache, pressure in the nose, eyes and cheeks, fever, bad breath, fatigue and dental pain.
Sinusitis can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection. As with all viral infections, no antibiotic treatment is required. Acute bacterial sinusitis may be diagnosed when a person has two or more symptoms and/or thick green or yellow nasal discharge for longer than a week that isn't responding to over the counter medications. Most sinus infections are diagnosed based on pressing on your sinuses and tapping your teeth to assess for tenderness.
Treatment for sinusitis. Although sinus infections are not contagious, delaying treatment can cause unnecessary pain — especially when you consider that symptoms may last up to 14 days. You might try decongestants, steam inhalations and nasal irrigations to control symptoms. Over the counter nasal medications should not be used longer than their recommended 4-5 days, or they can actually increase congestion. Warm compresses and acetaminophen can be useful to relieve pain. For bacterial sinusitis, antibiotics are recommended. If antibiotics and other medications are not effective, surgery to open the sinus may be necessary. Left untreated, in rare instances sinusitis could lead to meningitis, brain abscess and infection of the bone.
Lynn Maurer, RN
Wellspring Lutheran Services
Executive Director, Home Health/Hospice