Imagine waking up every morning, dreading the very thought of another day with a throbbing headache, stuffy nose, and constant pressure around your eyes and cheeks. Unfortunately, for many around the world, this is not an imagination, but a painful reality.
Raj Shekhar, 32, from Patna has been experiencing bouts of sinusitis for the last seven years. “The first bout of sinusitis lasted for about two weeks,” he recalls. “At first, the reason I thought was due to viral infection causing me cold-like symptoms that resolved within the third week.”
Symptoms of sinusitis such as a runny nose, nasal congestion, and headache, overlap with those of a common cold. And so, Shekhar initially thought it is just a common cold. But when he started experiencing the same bout of symptoms frequently, he went to get a consultation. And that was when his doctor diagnosed him with acute sinusitis.
Armed with knowledge about his condition, gleaned from both health blogs and his doctor’s insightful counsel, he successfully managed it until December 2022.
He started experiencing sinusitis bouts again. “I thought I would recover within two to three weeks, but the symptoms stayed for more than two months this time,” he recalls. And this time without experimenting with the managing strategies by himself, he went to get it checked by the doctor. “This is chronic sinusitis, my doctor informed me.”
What is chronic sinusitis?
Chronic sinusitis, also called chronic rhinosinusitis, is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide, making it one of the most common chronic health issues. “Chronic sinusitis is a persistent inflammation of the sinuses,” 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 mucous, which traps dust and other particles before they can enter the lungs. When the sinuses become inflamed and blocked for a long period of time, it can lead to acute sinusitis.
Acute sinusitis is characterised by a sudden onset of symptoms, usually following a viral upper respiratory infection. It is typically of short duration, ranging from a few days to a few weeks.
“Chronic sinusitis, on the other hand, lasts for 12 weeks or longer and is often a result of recurrent acute episodes. Acute sinusitis is generally more intense in terms of symptoms, while chronic sinusitis may have milder but persistent symptoms,” Dr Bhatia observes. “Neither condition is contagious as they are usually caused by infections or other factors unrelated to person-to-person transmission.”
Symptoms of chronic sinusitis are numerous and some often linger for long, together lead constant limitations and reduced quality of life.
Symptoms of chronic sinusitis
Dr Nikhat Parveen, an ENT consultant from Kolkata says that the symptoms of chronic sinusitis are generally not intense but linger for long. It typically lasts for a few months, sometimes a year. The common symptoms of chronic sinusitis can vary in intensity and can be categorised into primary and secondary symptoms.
- Facial pain or pressure
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Reduced sense of smell
- Bad breath
- Dental pain
- Sleep disturbance
“But it’s not just the physical toll; the emotional and psychological effect of living with chronic sinusitis is equally profound. The constant discomfort and limitations in one’s daily life can lead to feelings of frustration, isolation, and even depression,” says Dr Parveen.
What causes chronic sinusitis
Chronic sinusitis does not discriminate. It can affect anyone, from children to the elderly. “It is often a result of recurrent acute episodes,” says Dr Bhatia. According to him, several factors contribute to the development of this condition, including:
- Allergies: Allergic reactions to pollen, dust, or pet dander can trigger chronic inflammation in the nasal passages and sinuses.
- Anatomical abnormalities: Structural issues in the nasal passages or sinuses, such as a deviated septum or nasal polyps, can obstruct airflow and drainage, making it easier for infections to take hold.
- Infections: Chronic sinusitis can be initiated by infections, whether bacterial, viral, or fungal. These infections can persist and lead to ongoing inflammation.
- Environmental factors: Exposure to pollutants, smoke, and other irritants can increase the risk of chronic sinusitis.
- Immune system disorders: Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV/AIDS, can make individuals more susceptible to chronic sinusitis.
Diagnosing and managing chronic sinusitis
Diagnosing this condition often involves a thorough medical history, physical examination, and sometimes imaging studies like CT scans or MRIs.
“The key symptoms include facial pain, nasal congestion, and discoloured nasal discharge,” says Dr Bhatia. “In my practice, I see numerous sinusitis cases monthly, and patients commonly present with persistent facial pain and nasal congestion during consultations.”
Once diagnosed, treatment strategies vary depending on the severity of the condition. Acute sinusitis often resolves with supportive care like rest, hydration and decongestants. Chronic sinusitis may require long-term management. Tailoring treatment to the individual’s specific symptoms and underlying causes is crucial.
Dr Parveen recommends some of the management of chronic sinusitis including:
- Medications: Antibiotics, antifungal drugs, and corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation and fight infections. Nasal corticosteroids are often prescribed to reduce inflammation, and saline nasal sprays help clear mucus and alleviate congestion.
- Nasal irrigation: Saline solutions can help flush out mucus and irritants from the nasal passages, providing relief.
- Surgery: In cases where medication and other treatments prove ineffective, surgical procedures like endoscopic sinus surgery may be necessary to correct structural issues and improve drainage. Surgical interventions are typically considered after other measures have been exhausted.
- Allergy management: Identifying and managing allergens through lifestyle changes and immunotherapy can be crucial for some individuals. Allergy testing can help identify specific triggers, and allergen avoidance or desensitization may be recommended.
Chronic sinusitis can be an ongoing challenge, but it need not be debilitating. It is generally manageable, and you can minimise the effect it has on your daily life and overall well-being. Understand the condition, seek proper medical care, and make lifestyle adjustments to take life back in your control.