More than 28 million adults in the U.S. are diagnosed with sinusitis or a sinus infection each year and more than 17 million are given a diagnosis of nasal allergy. These diagnoses are not mutually exclusive, for many people with sinusitis, nasal allergy is a contributing factor. For those without nasal allergy, so-called non-allergic rhinitis (environmental sensitivity), sinusitis can be a problem as well.
Sinuses and the Nose
Often people confuse nasal problems with sinus problems. The nose is not just what sits on your face but rather two mucosal-lined air passageways which connect the air around us with the back of our throat. The nasal septum is the wall of bone and cartilage that divides the sides. The lining tissue or mucous membrane conditions the air before it reaches your lungs (filtering, humidifying/dehumidifying, and warming). It also has immune functions. In short, we breathe through our noses, not our sinuses. Sinuses are like rooms off the hallway through which the air flows. Sometimes the openings or doors to our sinuses are quite small and subject to blockage when the membranes swell. This blockage is ultimately what results in sinusitis. Sinuses that ventilate freely through our nose are much less likely to become infected.
Nasal and Sinus Problems
Nose problems, like nasal allergy, deviated septum, nasal polyps or infections cause obstruction of nasal breathing. They can cause abnormal mucous and pain which radiates out from the nose. Sinusitis results in pain throughout the specific sinuses (forehead, between the eyes or cheeks), pus-filled discharge (opaque white or green), and occasionally fever with facial swelling. Both nasal and sinus conditions can exacerbate asthma or other lower respiratory conditions.
Diagnosing Nasal and Sinus Problems
Diagnosing nasal/sinus problems requires an examination of both nasal cavities. An Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) physician is specifically trained to do this. Frequently this is done with the use of a nasal endoscope, a lighted telescope passed through the anesthetized nose to examine both the nose and the area of the sinus openings. Less accurate methods such as using a flashlight or an otoscope may also be used.
Treatments for Sinus Problems
When patients suffer with frequent infections (more than three episodes a year) or complicated infections requiring multiple medicines, the question of allergy as a contributing factor should be evaluated by a competent allergist. Preventative approaches with medicines or immunotherapy (allergy shots or allergy drops) may help. There are also helpful treatments and avoidance measures available for non-allergic rhinitis.
Chronic or persistent symptoms (greater than eight weeks in duration) such as blockage, abnormal discharge and pain require detailed evaluation. Even chronic sinusitis can be treated successfully with medications if caught early enough. Chronic sinus conditions that linger over long periods of time frequently require surgery to drain the sinuses and enlarge their openings so they ventilate better.
For patients seeking a safe and effective alternative to using regular medications or undergoing invasive surgery, Balloon Sinus Dilation may be an option. This simple, in-office procedure provides instant, long-term relief for individuals suffering from chronic sinus pain & pressure.
When Treatments for Sinus and Nasal Problems Fail
Failed treatments for sinus and nasal problems are often the result of inaccurate diagnoses. Because sinus issues and allergy problems are often interrelated, being seen by both ENT and Allergy specialists has an advantage. Advanced Specialty Care is one of the few practices that integrates Board Certified ENT Care with Board Certified Allergists to accurately diagnose the problem and implement patient-specific treatments that have the best chance of controlling symptoms and avoiding surgery if possible.