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IN HEALTH

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No Need to Suffer With Chronic Nasal and Sinus Problems

 

Have you ever had a cold or allergy attack that just won't go away? If so, there's a good chance you actually had sinusitis. Experts estimate that 37 million people are affected with sinusitis every year, making it one of the most common health conditions in America. That number may be significantly higher since the symptoms of bacterial sinusitis often mimic those of colds, allergies, and many sufferers never see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Chronic sinusitis, caused by bacterial infections and aggravated by allergies, results in facial pressure and nasal congestion/discharge. Other symptoms include fever, headache, coughing and pain in the upper teeth and face.

In a healthy person, the sinus cavities behind the eyes, nose and forehead serve as filters and humidifiers for the lungs. On a typical day the nose and sinuses produce between a pint to a quart of clear, watery mucus secretions that pass into and through the nose, washing the membranes and picking up dust particles, air pollutants and filtering the air the person breathes.

When the nasal passages secrete more than the normal due to allergies, smoke, viral infections, air pollutants or other nasal diseases, postnasal drip becomes a problem. When mucus secretions become thick and sticky, due to too-dry air or a bacterial infection, sinusitis—an infection or inflammation of the sinuses—may result.

Often sinusitis begins with cold or flu like symptoms. Increasingly, however, allergy and pollution are causing more sinus complaints and triggering more infections. Mucus production increases and the nasal membranes become so swollen that the sinus openings become blocked. The abnormal pressure that builds up as a result can cause pressure and pain in the forehead and/or face, behind the eyes, or in the cheeks and upper teeth.

Sinusitis is more than a stuffy nose and usually does not go away by itself. Many people don't realize that it is not simply the remnant of their recent cold or bout with hay fever. They may fail to seek medical help until they are really sick, usually a week or two after the initial cold or allergy attack seals the sinus cavities. Often the person runs a fever, coughs and sneezes large quantities of infected mucus.

About one third of all the cases include a sinus headache, and a throbbing pain that worsens when the individual bends over. Pressure in the maxillary sinuses in the cheeks may masquerade as a toothache. The normal flow of mucus, postnasal drip, can even spread the infection to the bronchi and lungs. And may trigger asthma attacks in susceptible people.

Suspect sinusitis if the cold lasts more than ten days or when the mucous turns green/yellow, bad tasting, or foul smelling. Some sinus infections resolve on their own and fortunately respond to conservative treatment. However, it is important to seek medical care in persistent or severe cases. Further, if infected mucus drips into the lungs it can promote bronchitis, chronic cough, or pneumonia.

Treatment of sinus problems varies, depending on the diagnosis. Infections may respond to over-the-counter medications, decongestants and/or the short-term use of a nasal spray. Drinking lots of fluids will help thin secretions and allow the sinuses to drain. Remember to keep indoor humidity at 25-30%. Long, hot showers or saunas are better at providing moisture and heat to the sinus cavities. Avoid outdoor exposure such as ice fishing, snowmobiling, skiing, or any activity with the face in the wind weather.

If over-the-counter medications fail, antibiotics may be required to control the infection and prevent complications. If people do not respond to either of those treatments, surgery may need to be considered in a minority of patients.

And what if surgery is necessary? Technological advances in endoscopic (telescopic) procedures may allow more effective diagnosis and treatment of sinus disorders than in the past. A lighted telescope placed inside the nose magnifies the area and allows the surgeon to diagnose and correct obstruction and remove infection. It is estimated that there are more than 150,000 endoscopic sinus procedures performed each year, many of them for diagnosis alone and others for surgeries on polyps, cysts, chronic infections, bone deformities (including deviated septums) and plugged openings. Whatever the treatment it is important for patients to know there are options to suffering from chronic nasal and sinus problem.

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