What is sinusitis?

19 February 2020

Sinusitis is when your nasal passages become inflamed, usually due to an infection caused after a flu or cold.

During a cold, you produce mucus that protects your body from germs, sometimes the mucus can build up and become thick inside your sinuses, locking in bacteria and germs.Young woman with flu holding her nose

Usually the symptoms of sinusitis clear up within 2 to 3 weeks, if it carries on past this you should see your GP.

Symptoms of sinusitis

  • pain, inflammation and tenderness around the cheeks, eyes or forehead
  • a blocked nose
  • a reduced sense of smell
  • green or yellow mucus from your nose
  • a sinus headache
  • a high temperature
  • toothache
  • bad breath

If you are unsure whether your child has sinusitis, look out for irritability, difficulty feeding and breathing through their mouth.

To treat sinusitis, make sure you:

  • try to get as much rest as possible
  • drink plenty of fluids
  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help with the pain and inflammation (not suitable for children under sixteen)
  • rinse your nose with a salt water solution to help the congestion

Before seeing your GP try your pharmacist who may advise you to try a decongestant nasal spray or a salt water nasal spray or solution. This should be used to help unblock the nose and should only be used between 1 and 4 times a day. Using a nasal spray for too long can make your symptoms worse, only use it for one week.

If your symptoms still haven’t improved, see your GP. The doctor may examine you by feeling the pressure and tenderness around your head and cheeks. As well as examining your nose to look for inflammation.

They may also have to take photos of your internal structure through a CT scan or an MRI to understand where the issue is.

Your doctor may prescribe you antibiotics before suggesting surgery to help fight the bacterial infection. Always complete the course of antibiotics that your doctor has prescribed to you even if your symptoms have improved.

Chronic sinusitis

Rather than a bacterial infection, chronic sinusitis is caused by growths in the sinuses or swelling of the lining of your sinuses. This can affect both adults and children. This can last longer than common sinusitis and does not always get better by standard treatments like antibiotics.

Sinusitis surgery

In some cases, you may need sinusitis surgery, which is usually carried out under general anaesthetic. The surgery is to widen your sinuses either by removing some of the blocked tissue or inflating a tiny balloon in the blocked sinuses, then removing it.

The surgery involves no cuts or stitches to the face as it is primarily undertaken through the nostril. You should expect to go home the same day as your surgery and rest for at least a week. If your work involves heavy lifting you will need to be off for at least two weeks.

Sinus surgery is very effective with roughly 1 in 8 patients needing another sinus operation within five to ten years.

Learn more about ear nose and throat (ENT) surgery.