Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinuses (the air-filled chambers in the nasal bones and cheekbones). This happens when germs like bacteria or viruses get into your nose or sinuses. Then the body’s immune system tries to fight the germs, and that causes the sinus lining to swell up and block the channels that drain the sinuses. This can lead to pressure, pain and yellow to greenish nasal discharge.
Treatment is aimed at getting rid of the infection, relieving symptoms and decreasing the number of sinus infections you have. Your doctor will usually start with the least invasive treatments. These include prescription and over-the-counter oral medicines, saline nose drops or sprays, and irrigation of the sinuses. They may also recommend allergy testing or other forms of immunotherapy. These are not a cure for sinusitis, but they can decrease the number of infections you have and improve your quality of life.
If your doctor thinks you have a bacterial infection, they’ll give you antibiotics to treat it. They’ll typically prescribe these for 10-14 days. Antibiotics only work to treat bacterial sinus infections, not viral ones. If you have chronic sinusitis, your doctor might also prescribe over-the-counter allergy medicines to reduce swelling and congestion in the nose.
Painkillers can help relieve headaches caused by sinusitis. These can include ibuprofen or acetaminophen. They can be taken as directed on the label, or you might take a higher dose if recommended by your doctor.
You might also try home remedies to ease your symptoms. A humidifier can help moisten dry sinus passages, and saline nose drops can reduce inflammation. You can buy these at pharmacies and grocery stores. Nasal sprays can help unblock clogged sinuses, but they should only be used as directed on the label. You can also get a decongestant to open up your sinuses, but you shouldn’t use them for more than a few days.
A test to look inside your sinuses is called a CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It can show whether your sinuses are blocked or have structural abnormalities.
Surgery to unblock your sinuses is called functional endoscopic sinus surgery, or FESS. It’s done under general anesthesia. It’s often reserved for people who have tried multiple courses of antibiotics and other medications to manage their sinus problems and didn’t get relief. It can also be used for people who have complications from sinusitis, such as polyps or fungal infection. It’s also used for people who have chronic sinusitis that doesn’t respond to other therapies. For this, your doctor will use a small instrument to clear out the sinuses and remove any obstructions. Before surgery, a CT scan is done to help your surgeon plan the procedure and ensure that the sinuses are free of any blocks or obstructions. They’ll also use a tiny tool to remove any tissue samples that need to be taken for a biopsy. These are then tested for signs of fungus or other abnormalities.