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Sinusitis – Causes and Prevention

Anyone who has been through an episode of sinusitis won’t easily forget the constant heavy headaches, the feelings of pressure in the face, the debilitating feelings of walking around with a head that doesn’t feel right, and won’t go away either with the use of over-the-counter pain killers. Sinusitis usually follows an upper respiratory infection, be it viral, bacterial or fungal.

Sinusitis basically refers to infection and inflammation of the sinuses, which are the air pockets within your facial bone. When infected, these air pockets become loaded with fluid and germs that cause infection. Sinusitis can be of sudden acute onset or chronic, and doesn’t go away for sometimes as long as 12 weeks.

In India alone, about one in every eight persons walks around with chronic sinusitis, with about 134 millions affected by it every year – come to think of it, that’s about the population size of many countries! With our culture of self-diagnosis and self-medication, many people end up delaying treatment till it has reached a debilitating stage.

Sinus blockage can be caused by a number of factors including the common cold, allergic rhinitis, the presence of small nasal polyps, septum deviation, pollution, living in congested areas, impaired immune systems or living next to the sea. In children, bottle feeding while lying on the back, pacifier use, allergies and smoke in the immediate environment can also contribute to sinusitis.

As we breathe, the sinus openings into the nasal cavity get oxygen and push out mucus to keep the nasal lining moist. During the course of an infection, this opening gets blocked and the mucus is unable to drain out. As the mucus accumulates in the sinus cavity (leaving the nasal lining dry), it becomes a good medium for bacteria and fungus to grow in. The resulting swelling and pus then affect the neighboring eyes and brain over time.

Aside from facial pain, heaviness and headache, there might also be a resultant postnasal drip which may be yellow or green colored. Other common symptoms include bad breath, fever, dental pain, stuffy nose, runny nose and a reduced sense of taste or smell.

Treatment of sinusitis is aimed at improving drainage of mucus and reducing the swelling to relieve pain and pressure. It’s also aimed at clearing up the infection and prevention of scar tissue. You will need to keep yourself well-hydrated to keep the mucus flowing, breath in warm moist air like steam, use saline drops or sprays to keep the nasal passages moist and a hot, damp towel draped over the face for 5-10 minutes, several times a day, feels so heavenly!

However, as they say, prevention is always better than control, so here are a few tips to reduce your chances of developing this debilitating condition.

Treat nasal congestions caused by colds and allergies promptly so bacteria don’t get a chance to get into your sinuses. And more importantly, stay away from people who have colds and viral upper respiratory infections. Avoid irritating tobacco smoke both at home and at work place as this triggers inflammation of the membranes in the nose and sinuses. And if you are prone to allergies, consider taking allergy shots or immunotherapy to avoid allergic rhinitis. Use a humidifier if the air is dry in your area.

But most of all, timely intervention is the best you can do to save yourself from the headaches of sinusitis.