What is Sinusitis?

Normal Sinuses

Normal Sinuses

Have you ever experienced a cold that not only wasn’t the 24-hour variety, but just wouldn’t seem to go away? If so, you may have suffered from sinusitis.

The word “sinusitis” has its roots in the Latin word sinuo which translates to “bend, wind, curve.” In medical terminology, the “itis” suffix refers to an inflammation. Sinusitis, therefore, may be best defined as an inflammation of the sinus’ mucous membrane. The paranasal sinuses (those adjacent to the nasal cavities) are most often the type of sinus affected.

An infection of the mucus membrane is quite serious. Just as the nose is lined with a thin mucus coating, so are your sinuses. The mucus membrane is lined with an important layer of tissue that works to catch dirt particles, bacteria and germs that lead to infection via mucus and tiny hairs (called cilia). (Note that the viruses are typically the same type that causes the common cold.) When the membrane is inflamed, the bacteria and viruses are unable to drain, becoming trapped in the sinuses. These microorganisms then cause an infection inside the sinuses, and if your immune system is unable to fight back, the result is a case of sinusitis, which affects the way you breathe, among other unpleasant symptoms.

Your Sinuses & Inflammation

Sinusitis

Sinusitis

Where does the inflammation come from, you may ask. There are several different answers. It may stem from a particular fungus, virus or bacteria, but could also be the result of your body’s response to an allergic or autoimmune reaction. Further, a structural deformity in the nasal area, such as a deviated septum or even a head cold that lasts for more than a few days could also be the culprit. The sinuses are unable to drain as they should, and sinusitis is the result.

Doctors also cite factors such as an abnormally small sinus ostia or nasal polyps, in additional to the presence of the cystic fibrosis gene; however research is still in development in order to understand the exact way in which these traits are linked to chronic sinusitis. Additionally, it is important not to expose yourself to smoking and/or second hand smoke, since both are notoriously linked to chronic sinusitis.

Additionally, even the slightest bit of inflammation can cause sinusitis, since the spaces for draining inside the nose are microscopically small, amounting to only millimeters or even smaller, in size.

Most cases of sinusitis are classified as a viral infection that may take more than 10 days to heal before you start feeling normally again. Sinusitis is a very common condition in the United States, and close to 37 million people are affected with the condition each year.

 Distinguishing Sinusitis From Rhinitis

Many people often confuse sinusitis with rhinitis, and visa versa. Therefore, it is crucial that you understand the symptoms linked to each so that your doctor can decide on the best method of treatment.

Rhinitis is typically linked to the classic “runny” nose, which may also be accompanied with pain and pressure felt in the face and head. Inflammation may also be the cause of this type of infection, however, it is distinguished from sinusitis in that here, the inflammation is caused by a swelling of the mucous membrane of the nose only, instead of in the sinuses.

Sufferers of rhinitis are much more common that those who have been diagnosed with sinusitis. Additionally, rhinitis is caused mostly by allergies whereas sinusitis is caused by a bacteria or virus. You are more likely to experience a case of rhinitis during the cold, winter months, when frigid air affects the nasal cavity and causes nasal discharge.

Lastly, it is not uncommon for some people to experience a both rhinitis and sinusitis at the same time, whereby the mucous membranes of not only the nose, but also the sinuses are inflamed. As mentioned above, this condition is referred to as rhinosinusitis.

 How is Sinusitis Classified?

There are five sub-categories of sinusitis. Note: Your doctor may refer to sinusitis as “rhinosinusits” because as mentioned above,  the inflammation may affect the paranasal sinuses in addition to the nasal cavity.  The prefix “rhino,” from the Greek, meaning  “nose” or “nasal” is therefore paired with the condition to account for the combination of both rhinitis and sinusitis.

Acute Rhinosinusitis – An infection that lasts for less than four weeks and often classified as either severe or non-severe.

Recurrent Acute Rhinosinusitis – An infection that results in four or more single and separate episodes, within one year.

Subacute Rhinosinusitis – An infection that lasts over four weeks, but less than 12 weeks, and is classified between acute and chronic infection.

Chronic Rhinosinusitis – An infection that lasts for more than 12 weeks.

Acute exacerbation of chronic rhinosinusitis — Worsening of the sinus infection in a patient with chronic rhinosinusitis, that returns “to baseline” after treatment.

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