Q: I have been having some pain on the areas of my cheeks below my eyes. I've been told this is the "sinus" area and I am having sinus problems. What is a sinus?
Sinus is a layman's term for sinusitis, which is inflammation of your sinuses. Your sinuses can be infected by bacteria or viruses.
Frequently, viruses infect your nasal passages first, causing rhinitis (inflammation of your nose). This inflammation blocks the openings of the sinuses to your nose. Thereby, your sinuses get inflamed as well.
Sinusitis doesn't occur alone. It's preceded by rhinitis. Therefore, a more correct term to describe the affliction would be rhinosinusitis.
Viral respiratory tract infections frequently lead to sinus infections with bacteria. Your sinuses can also be infected by fungi.
Sinusitis is one of the most common chronic infections in the world. Unfortunately, most people overlook it because they don't understand the symptoms when they have it.
Q: Where exactly are my sinuses?
Your sinuses are actually air-filled pockets within your facial bones. There are four groups of sinuses. They are named after the bones in which they are located.
1. The maxillary sinuses - this is the pair located beneath your eyes and on either side of your nose.
2. The ethmoid sinuses - these are located between the eyes.
3. Frontal sinuses - this pair is located in your forehead,
4. Sphenoid sinuses - this pair is located behind your ethmoid sinuses, near the middle of your skull.
Each of these sinuses has an opening that connects to your nose called the ostium.
Q: What types of sinusitis are there? I have heard of some people having this sinus problem forever.
Forever is probably an exaggeration, but some people seem to be perpetually having rhinosinusitis.
Acute rhinosinusitis is defined as sinusitis that is present for less than four weeks.
Subacute rhinosinusitis is present for more than four weeks but less than 12 weeks.
Chronic rhinosinusitis is present for more than 12 weeks.
There is a variant called recurrent acute rhinosinusitis, which means that you have more than four acute episodes within a year.
Q: Is it easier for some people to get sinusitis compared to others? It seems that my cousin is having this chronic sinusitis that you speak about.
Yes, there are risk factors. Viral infections of the nose may lead to sinusitis as described above, so if you are prone to getting common colds, you might be more at risk of sinusitis.
Nasal allergies also cause inflammation of the lining of your nose, leading to blocked ostia, and hence, sinusitis. So if you are the type to get allergic rhinitis, or vasomotor rhinitis, you might be more at risk.
In fact, if you have asthma or some sort of hypersensitivity disease like nasal polyps, your sinuses seem to get inflamed more easily as well due to increased levels of inflammatory substances floating in your blood.
Some people have anatomical obstruction of the nose, which may block the ostia.
Previous surgery of the area may also contribute to blockage of the ostia. Ironically, the most common surgery around that area is sinus surgery!
People who have had facial injuries, such as during contact sports, may also have alterations in their structure that may block the ostia.
Q: How can I tell that I have sinusitis, in addition to having the common cold?
It sometimes can be quite difficult, hence many people miss it. But commonly, if you get snot that is typically thick and has a yellow or green color, this is a symptom of bacterial sinusitis.
Most people have a blocked nose and a cough, which is caused by a post-nasal drip.
If you press against the areas of your sinuses are described above, and there is pain over those areas, that is a sign of sinusitis.
Sometimes there is fever and ear discomfort, especially when your Eustachian tube from the nose to the ear is blocked.
Since sinusitis is so difficult to differentiate from colds, here are indicators that they may be the cause of your problems:
- Facial pain/pressure.
- Facial congestion and fullness.
- Nasal blockage.
- Thick green or yellow discharge from the nose or throat.
- Decreased sense of smell.
Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health advice, computers and entertainment. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only.