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Sinusitis occurs more often in people with decreased immune systems and those with abnormal mucous production and filtration. You are coughing and sneezing and your body and head ache. You try and manage with over-the-counter cough and cold medicines but nothing seems to work. The aches and pains continue for over a week particularly in your head and face. A common cause of these symptoms is inflamed sinuses (sinusitis).

Sinuses are air cavities lined by mucous membranes and all eight of them are located inside your skull. When these cavities become infected or inflamed the pain can be rather severe and troubling. The type of symptoms and pain you have depends entirely on which sinuses are affected. There are four pairs of sinuses: the frontal which are located over the eyes in the brow area; the maxillary which are inside each cheekbone; the ethmoid which are behind the nose bridge and between the eyes; and the sphenoid which are behind the ethmoid and the eyes in the upper region of the nose. Each sinus has an opening into the nose for the free exchange of air and mucous. When air is trapped within blocked or inflamed sinuses along with pus or other secretions there is increased pressure on the sinus wall. Intense pain is often the result. Similarly when air is prevented from entering the swollen sinus a vacuum can be created which also causes severe pain.

There are three types of sinusitis. Acute sinusitis lasts for three weeks or less chronic sinusitis lasts anywhere from three to eight weeks but can last for months or years and recurrent sinusitis involves several acute attacks per year. Depending again on which sinuses are affected symptoms and pain can differ. The following is an abbreviated list of possible symptoms:

  • strong headache when waking up in the morning
  • pain when forehead is touched (indicates frontal sinuses)
  • aching in upper jaw/teeth/cheeks (indicates maxillary sinuses)
  • eyelid/eye tissue swelling and pain between eyes (indicates ethmoid sinuses)
  • fever,weakness,fatigue,cough,runny nose/congestion
  • pain in the forehead when tilting head downwards

Most people however have pain in several locations so it is often difficult to tell which sinuses are inflamed.

Sinusitis can have many causes. The most frequent cause of acute sinusitis is the common cold. The cold virus initially increases mucous production and swells up the sinuses. This is a good environment for bacteria to grow and this leaves the sinuses more susceptible to a sinus infection. Fungal infections allergies and smoking are also possible causes. Some people just have chronic sinus inflammation which in itself has numerous triggers. Sinusitis occurs more often in people with decreased immune systems and those with abnormal mucous production and filtration. People with asthma may also experience repeated episodes of sinusitis.

This condition is easy to mistake for the common cold. The key difference between the two is that colds usually go away on their own without intensive treatment in about seven to 14 days. Sinusitis usually lasts longer and causes more symptoms. Your doctor can diagnose sinusitis by listening to your symptoms doing a physical examination and taking X-rays and if necessary an MRI or CT scan (magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography). Treatments include anti-inflammatories and decongestants either in pill form or as a spray antibiotics if it’s a bacterial infection and pain relievers. It is important to note that over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays often cause more sinus congestion and swelling if they are used too often. These should be used sparingly (usually no more than 3 days). This does not apply to prescribed steroid nasal sprays. When medical treatment fails surgery may be the only alternative for treating chronic sinusitis.

In addition to prescribed medications there are a few things you can do at home to help lessen the symptoms:

  • Get plenty of rest. Lying down can help drain sinuses and relieve pain.
  • Drink plenty of fluids especially hot liquids.
  • Making sure the air in your home is filtered and humidified is a good first step. This can make a huge difference.
  • Inhaling steam from a vaporizer or hot cup of liquid can be quite soothing.
  • Pain in the face or head can sometimes be alleviated with the application of a nice warm washcloth to the affected area.
  • Rinse your sinus passages with a saline solution. You can buy an over-the-counter saline solution.

Any cold that lasts longer than two weeks is unusual; if your cold/flu is accompanied by any out-of-the-ordinary symptoms it is best to contact your doctor as soon as possible to be checked out.