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Sinusitis - Nothing to Sneeze At

Nothing to Sneeze At

If you are one of the more than 31 million people who have sinusitis, you know it's nothing to sneeze at. Sinusitis is the most common chronic illness in the country. Many people suffer for years with sinusitis, unaware that help is available. They lose time from work and school and endure painful symptoms, such as a headache, runny or stuffy nose and ears and facial pain that over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines don't seem to help.

Often, people bear sinusitis in silence because its symptoms are often difficult to distinguish from colds or allergies. In fact, many acute bacterial sinusitis infections are usually preceded by a cold or allergy attack. Most sufferers never see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment with an antibiotic to prevent future complications.

"If your cold lasts longer than a week and doesn't get better, there's a good chance bacteria has moved in, causing a sinus infection," says Donald Leopold, M.D., chairman of the department of otolaryngology head & neck surgery at Hopkins Bayview. According to Dr. Leopold, sinusitis occurs when mucous membranes in the nasal cavity become swollen. Mucous backs up, resulting in a build-up of bacteria in the sinuses. "Air can't enter the sinuses and mucous doesn't drain. It's like a stagnant pondwarm, dark, moistthe perfect environment for bacteria to set up shop and multiply."

When one sinus region is infected, membranes near it become inflamed and their adjacent regions then become infected. In a healthy nose, sinuses drain naturally through a small opening called the ostia. Someone with sinus problems experiences a complete closure of the ostia, which, over time, causes sinus membranes to become scarred and swollen.

In most cases, otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat specialists) first try to treat chronic sinus problems with prescription antibiotics, nasal or oral steroids, antihistamines and decongestants. If medical options don't help alleviate symptoms, endoscopic surgery helps reestablish the natural drainage pattern of the sinuses. With the use of an endoscope, a thin rigid tube with a powerful fiberoptic light source, doctors can explore the nasal cavity thoroughly.Surgeons use scopes with varying angles of visualization to observe the nasal cavity; small instruments are used alongside the scopes to remove or expand obstructed areas in the sinuses.

"It's a 'patient friendly' procedure that has an excellent success rate," says Dr. Leopold. "Endoscopic sinus surgery has come a long way over the years. It's usually done on an outpatient basis. Most patients need Tylenol, if any medication at all, after the procedure."

Allergies caused by pollen and dust, or outdoor air pollutants are common culprits of sinusproblems. Obstructions due to swelling, scars or polyps also may cause chronic sinus discomfort. Two or more bouts of sinusitis within a three-month period, which require antibiotic therapy, may indicate a chronic condition. If you think you may have a chronic sinus condition or would like to make an appointment with an otolaryngologist, call (410) 550-1864.

Know Your Sinusitis Score

If you suspect you have sinusitis, take a few minutes to review the signs and symptoms of Sinusitis. If your sinusitis score is three or higher, you should see your doctor.
- Facial pressure/pain
- Headache
- Congestion/stuffy nose
- post-nasal drip
- Thick, yellow-green nasal discharge
- Cold symptoms for more than 10 days
- Low-grade fever
- Bad breath
- pain in the upper teeth

preventing Sinusitis

To avoid developing sinusitis during a cold or allergy attack, keep your sinuses clear by:

  • Using an oral or nasal-spray decongestant (avoid prolonged use of nasal sprays)
  • Gently blowing your nose, blocking one nostril while blowing through the other
  • Drinking plenty of fluids to keep nasal discharge thin
  • Avoiding air travel. If you must fly, use a nasal spray decongestant before take-off to prevent blockage of the sinuses so mucous can drain
  • Using over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines and nasal sprays to control allergy attacks
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