Medically known as rhinosinusitis, a sinus infection occurs when your nasal cavities become infected, swollen, and inflamed.
Sinusitis is usually caused by a virus and often persists even after other upper respiratory symptoms are gone. In some cases, bacteria, or rarely fungus, may cause a sinus infection. Other conditions such as allergies, nasal polyps, and tooth infections can also contribute to sinus pain and symptoms.
What is sinusitis?
Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinuses. It is often caused by bacterial (germ) infection. Sometimes, viruses and fungi (molds) cause it. People with weak immune systems are more likely to develop bacterial or fungal sinus infection. Some people with allergies can have “allergic fungal sinus infection.” Acute sinus infection lasts three to eight weeks. A sinus infection lasting longer than eight weeks is considered chronic.
The sinuses are air-filled cavities. They are located:
- Within the bony structure of the cheeks
- Behind the forehead and eyebrows
- On either side of the bridge of the nose
- Behind the nose directly in front of the brain
An infection of the sinus cavity close to the brain can be life-threatening, if not treated. In rare cases, it can spread to the brain.
Normal sinuses are lined with a thin layer of mucus that traps dust, germs and other particles in the air. Tiny hair-like projections in the sinuses sweep the mucus (and whatever is trapped in it) towards openings that lead to the back of the throat. From there, it slides down to the stomach. This continual process is a normal body function.
A sinus infection stops the normal flow of mucus from the sinuses to the back of the throat. The tiny hair-like “sweepers” become blocked when infections or allergies cause tiny nasal tissues to swell. The swelling traps mucus in the sinuses.
Some people have bodily defects that contribute to sinus infection. The most common of these defects are:
- Deformity of the bony partition between the two nasal passages
- Nasal polyps (benign nasal growths that contain mucus)
- A narrowing of the sinus openings
What are the sinuses?
The sinuses are small, empty spaces behind your cheekbones and forehead that connect to the inside of the nose.
Sinusitis causes the lining of the sinuses to swell up. This stops mucus draining into your nose and throat properly, making you feel blocked up.
How can you treat sinusitis yourself?
You can often treat mild sinusitis without seeing a GP by:
- getting plenty of rest
- drinking plenty of fluids
- taking painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen – don’t give aspirin to children under 16
- holding a warm clean flannel over your face for a few minutes several times a day
- inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water – don’t let children do this because of the risk of scalding
- cleaning your nose with a saltwater solution to ease congestion