Imagine waking up one morning with a pounding headache, a stuffy nose, and a face that feels like it has been punched in. You might feel like you are having a cold, but cold or viral infections do not show a sudden onset of symptoms.
If that is the case, you may be experiencing bouts of acute sinusitis, a common infection of the sinuses.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, acute sinusitis is a common medical condition that affects around one in eight adults each year. “It [acute sinusitis] occurs when the sinuses become inflamed and swollen,” says Dr Ravi Bhatia, Director of ENT and cochlear implant, Sarvodaya Hospital, Faridabad.
Sinuses are small air-filled cavities located behind the forehead, cheeks, and nose. They help to produce mucus, which traps dust and other particles before they can enter the lungs. When the sinuses become inflamed and blocked, it can lead to acute sinusitis.
“While often caused by a viral infection, it can be quite uncomfortable and may lead to a range of bothersome symptoms,” Dr Bhatia added.
Symptoms of acute sinusitis
Dr Nikhat Parveen, an ENT consultant from Kolkata says that the symptoms of acute sinusitis are generally intense. It typically lasts from a few days to a few weeks. The common symptoms of acute sinusitis can vary in intensity, and may include:
- Facial pain and pressure: Pain and pressure around the eyes, cheeks, and forehead are hallmark symptoms of acute sinusitis.
- Nasal congestion: Sinus blockage can lead to congestion, making it difficult to breathe through the nose.
- Runny nose: A discharge of thick, yellow or green mucus is a common sign of sinusitis.
- Coughing: Postnasal drip can lead to persistent coughing, especially at night.
- Headache: The pressure in the sinuses can cause a throbbing headache, often worsening when bending forward.
- Sore throat: Drainage from the sinuses can irritate the throat, leading to a sore throat.
- Fatigue: Sinusitis can be draining, causing fatigue and reduced energy levels.
What causes acute sinusitis
Acute sinusitis typically occurs when the sinus passages become blocked and cannot effectively drain mucus. According to Dr Bhatia, this is frequently triggered by various reasons, including:
- Viral infections: The most common cause of acute sinusitis is a viral infection, often a cold or the flu. These viruses can lead to swelling of the nasal passages and blockage of the sinuses.
- Bacterial infections: While less common, bacterial infections can also cause acute sinusitis. These infections may develop after a viral infection when the sinuses are already inflamed and more susceptible to bacterial invasion.
- Allergies: Allergic reactions to pollen, dust, mould, or pet dander can lead to inflammation and congestion in the nasal passages, potentially causing it.
While the aforementioned factors are the main causes of acute sinusitis, structural abnormalities and nasal polyps may also cause sinus infection or nose infection. However, these are more prominent in causing chronic sinusitis.
Managing acute sinusitis
The management of acute sinusitis depends on its underlying cause. Home remedies may be all that is required in acute sinusitis. However, you may require medications prescribed by a doctor if the condition persists.
Dr Bhatia and Dr Parveen recommend a few approaches to manage the condition:
- Rest: Give your body the time it needs to heal.
- Hydration: Drink plenty of fluids to thin mucus and keep it flowing.
- Steam inhalation: Inhaling steam can relieve congestion.
- Saline nasal sprays: These can moisten nasal passages and promote drainage.
- Over-the-counter medications: Your doctor may prescribe a mild pain reliever, anti-allergics or decongestant to help manage the discomfort. If the doctor suspects having a bacterial infection, antibiotics also can be prescribed.
Prevention is better than cure. As none of us know when we may catch an infection, it is important to adopt some preventive measures that will reduce the chances of getting acute sinusitis or nose infection.
Both Dr Bhatia and Dr Parveen recommend following simple tips to prevent acute sinusitis, including:
- Hand hygiene: Regular handwashing can reduce the risk of viral infections.
- Allergen management: Finding the triggering allergen and reducing exposure to those can help prevent allergic sinusitis.
- Nasal irrigation: Saline nasal rinse is a natural and effective way to keep the sinuses clear.
- Stay hydrated: Adequate hydration helps in thinning of mucus and maintains healthy mucus flow.
- Avoid smoking: Smoke can irritate the nasal passages and exacerbate sinusitis. It can also constrict the nasal passages, thereby worsening the congestion and breathing difficulty.
- Use a humidifier: Adding moisture to the air can prevent dry nasal passages.
Acute sinusitis can be a discomforting condition, but it is generally manageable with appropriate care. While home remedies and over-the-counter medications can help relieve mild cases, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional if symptoms persist or worsen. By understanding the causes, recognising the symptoms, and taking preventive measures, you can minimise the effect of acute sinusitis on your daily life and overall well-being.