Sinusitis - Acute and Chronic

The sinuses are cavities, or air-filled pockets, that are near the nasal passage. The sinuses make mucus, which is a fluid that cleans the bacteria and other particles out of the air we breathe.

Sinusitis is inflammation or an infection of the sinuses near the nose. These infections usually occur after having a cold or an allergic inflammation. Millions are affected by sinusitis every year.

Because your nose can get stuffy when you have a cold (usually a viral infection), it is easy to confuse nasal congestion with rhinosinusitis. Acute rhinosinusitis is inflammation of both of the nasal passages and the sinuses. It lasts longer than a cold and causes some unique symptoms. It usually begins about 10 days after the start of a cold.

There are four types of sinusitis:

  • Acute: Symptoms last less than four weeks and get better with the appropriate treatment
  • Subacute: Does not get better with treatment initially, and symptoms last four to eight weeks
  • Chronic: Repeated acute infections with symptoms lasting twelve weeks or longer
  • Recurrent: Three or more episodes of acute sinusitis per year

Sinusitis Topics

Causes of Sinusitis

A sinus infection often follows an upper respiratory infection (URI) or common cold. The URI causes inflammation of the nasal passages that can lead to obstruction of the opening of the paranasal sinuses, which can lead to infection in the sinuses. Allergic disease can also lead to sinusitis because of the swelling of the nasal tissue and increased production of mucus.

Learn more about sinusitis.

Symptoms of Sinusitis
  • Runny nose or cold symptoms that last longer than seven to 10 days
  • Complaints of post-nasal drip (from the nose and down the back of the throat)
  • Headaches
  • Tenderness when the sides of your nose are touched
  • Pain when your forehead or cheek is touched
  • Loss of smell
  • Stuffy nose
  • Bad breath
  • Cough that might be more severe at night
  • Fever
  • Swelling around the eye, worse in the morning
  • Sore throat

Each individual experiences symptoms differently, and symptoms can be similar to those of other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your otolaryngologist for diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnosis of Sinusitis

Your doctor will often use an advance fiber optic scope to see into the nose to help diagnose this condition.

Treatment for Sinusitis

Effective treatment by otolaryngology specialists is achieved by various therapies including surgical options. Medical management includes antibiotics, topical, nasal and oral steroids and allergy medication. Surgical management might be necessary and would include sinus surgery.

What You Should Expect

You will receive a thorough diagnostic examination to evaluate if you have sinusitis and determine what course of treatment is needed. Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced otolaryngologist are important to the successful outcome for patients with ear, nose and throat disorders and conditions.

If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation for pre-operative information and tests.

The day of surgery, you will be taken care of in the operating room by otolaryngologist, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for patients with sinusitis. After surgery, you will go to the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by experienced surgical and nursing staff.

Learn more about your hospital stay, patient-centered care and returning home.

Multidisciplinary Care

Brigham and Women’s Hospital provides a multidisciplinary approach to patient care by collaborating with colleagues who have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating ear, nose and throat disorders and conditions. In addition, patients have full access to BWH’s world-renowned academic medical community, with its diverse specialists, and state-of-the-art facilities.

Learn more about Brigham and Women's Hospital

For over a century, a leader in patient care, medical education and research, with expertise in virtually every specialty of medicine and surgery.

About BWH