Treatment for Chronic Sinus Infections

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What is a Sinus Infection?

Sinus infections (also called sinusitis) occur as a result of swelling and inflammation in cavities near the nasal passage. When this happens, the nasal passages are unable to drain properly. The resulting build-up of mucus causes discomfort, pain, and swelling in the face and may cause other symptoms, such as headaches.

Acute sinus infections are those which are limited in duration. In most cases, a sinus infection does not linger once the cold causing the infection is over. However, there are some situations where a sinus infection may go on for several weeks, or may recur at frequent intervals. These are known as chronic sinus infections. By definition, a chronic sinus infection is one which lasts eight weeks or longer, or is recurrent.

Causes and Symptoms of Chronic Sinus Infections

While an acute sinus infection is typically a complication of a cold, chronic sinus infections usually have different causes. Possible causes of chronic sinusitis include not only respiratory infection, but also allergies, facial trauma, nasal polyps (growths in the sinuses), or a condition known as a deviated nasal septum. Either of these conditions can prevent the nasal cavities from draining in a normal fashion.

Symptoms of chronic sinus infections may include:

  • yellow or green nasal discharge (may drip down the back of the throat)
  • Nasal congestion (accompanied by difficulty breathing through the nose)
  • Swelling, discomfort, and pain around the forehead, eyes, cheeks, and nose
  • Aching of upper jaw and teeth
  • Impaired taste and smell
  • Cough (may become more severe at night)

Other symptoms may include ear pain, sore throat, bad breath, fatigue, nausea, and irritability. Generally, the symptoms of a chronic sinus infection tend to be more severe than those of acute infections, and tend to cause much more fatigue.

Chronic Sinus Infection Treatment

Chronic sinus infection treatment has two main goals: first, to ease the symptoms of infection by reducing inflammation and promoting nasal drainage, and second, to treat the underlying cause to prevent recurrent infection.

Treatment to relieve the symptoms of chronic sinus infection may include nasal decongestants and mucus thinners, oral steroids to reduce inflammation, and pain relief medication. Antibiotics are not always prescribed, as these are only useful when a bacterial infection is the cause of the condition.

In cases where allergies are the cause of the problem, immunotherapy to reduce your immune system’s sensitivity to the allergens causing the inflammation may be used.

If the condition is caused by structural abnormalities (such as those caused by nasal polyps or a deviated septum), some type of surgery may be an appropriate option for treatment. If the structural abnormality can be corrected, the surgeon uses a long, thin, flexible tube called an endoscope to explore the nasal passages, and will then use other tools to shave away tissue that is causing the sinus obstruction.


The Mayo Clinic on Sinus Infections