Sinusitis is swelling or inflammation of the lining of the bones that make up your face. Most people have 4 sets of sinuses but it can vary from person to person. You are not born with your sinsuses. The form as you grow and so your environment shapes how your sinuses develop. Swelling of the sinuses, or sinusitis, can be allergic, viral or bacterial. Often people have more than one cause going on at the same time. Many people consider sinus infections, colds and the flu to be similar or even the same thing.
In reality, they could not be more different. It takes a thorough exam and a lot of doctors know how to tell the difference. Common colds are viral, last a few days and generally resolve without treatment. The flu, or influenza is a more aggressive virus sometimes treated with anti-viral medications and steroids. A sinus infection generally refers to a bacterial infection of the sinus and can last days to weeks and even months or years. An infection less than 30 days is acute. Infection lasting more than 90 days is considered chronic.
How is a sinus infection diagnosed?
All medical diagnosis begins with a careful history. Your doctor, or specifically ENT provider, will start with a list of your symptoms. Any infection can cause a fever and make you feel under the weather. Body-wide aches and pains indicate a viral infection like the flu. A sore throat without cough may indicate strep throat. Localized pain, pressure, fullness in the face and drainage from the nose will suggest a sinus infection. Symptoms more than 10 days suggest a bacterial infection so it is important to know when symptoms start and stop.
The major symptoms of sinusitis are:
- Purulent (Pus like) drainage from the nose – front or back
- Nasal congestion or obstruction – blockage
- Facial pain, fullness, congestion and pressure
- Anosmia (loss of smell) or Hyposmia (partial sense of smell)
The minor symptoms of sinusitis are:
- Ear pain / fullness
- Dental or tooth pain
- Halitosis – bad breath
In the era of internet research, it can be easy to confuse one disease for another. Diagnosing a sinus infection requires a careful exam and often multiple techniques or tools. An ENT will often start with a full head and neck exam. It is important to check the ears, mouth, neck glands, teeth and skin of the face in addition to the nose. The nose you see in the mirror is just the tip of an iceberg. The sinuses and nose extend several inches back. To see the full extent of your nose, ENT doctors will use special tools to open the nostrils and special lights to see deeply. More often your ENT may employ a technique called endoscopy.
Endoscopy is a way of looking in the nose with special lights and scopes. Years ago it required an operating room and anesthesia. Today, ENTs employ cameras and telescopes that are only a few millimeters in size turning endoscopy into an office-based procedure with local anesthetic that can be completed in a few minutes with minimal to no discomfort. Modern ENT offices will have video systems and displays that allow patients to follow along as your doctor conducts your endoscopic exam.
In some cases of chronic infection, that is infections lasting more than 90 days, or when a patient has suffered from multiple infections, your ENT may recommend a CT or CAT scan of your sinuses. These scans involve a small dose of radiation. Camino ENT works with a select group of scan providers who work to minimize radiation exposure, use low dose protocols and ensure that scans are only done when necessary. A CT scan allows your doctor to see more than the size and shape of your sinus bones. It also shows the degree of infection, response to treatment and guides treatment options such as medications and surgeries.
Sinus care at Camino ENT Clinic
Camino ENT doctors are all board-certified physicians with the Academy of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery. All of our providers have years of experience and work as a team to ensure you get the best care for your sinus health.
Our spacious exam rooms are equipped with the latest technology to ensure an accurate diagnosis. Please call Camino ENT clinic today if you are having trouble with your sinuses and want to learn more about your treatment options.