How Do I Know If My Sinus Problems are Chronic?

Published February 21, 2017

By Carla Schnieder, Physician Assistant

Nebraska Medicine has many treatment options available for those suffering with chronic sinusitis

Many people suffer during the winter months from the pain and discomfort of sinus infections. But how do you know when your sinus infections have become chronic and what are your treatment options? Carla Schneider, Physician Assistant (PA-C) with the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Clinic at Nebraska Medicine helps explain the difference and offers advice on seeking treatment.

Sinusitis causes the sinus cavities around your nasal passages to become irritated and inflamed. This inflammation prevents your sinuses from properly draining, allowing mucus to build up. When this occurs, it can make breathing through your nose difficult and cause pain and swelling in your face and around your eyes.

“We differentiate between an acute episode of sinusitis or chronic sinusitis based on the length of symptoms,” notes Carla Schnieder, PA-C. “Acute sinusitis is mostly caused by the common cold. Unless a bacterial infection develops, most cases resolve within a week to 10 days. Chronic sinusitis involves symptoms that persist beyond 12 weeks.”

Many things can contribute to chronic sinusitis including allergies, immune system diseases, inadequate treatment, abnormal anatomy, or nasal masses.  Often times, however, it occurs in otherwise healthy individuals who may not have other risk factors. If symptoms persist for at least 12 weeks, then it is important to be evaluated by an ENT specialist.

“It is important for someone suffering with chronic symptoms to be evaluated by one of our sinus specialists who have the most up to date treatment options available,” Schneider recommends. “Without treatment, chronic sinusitis can sometimes lead to more serious disease such as meningitis, bone erosion, or vision changes.”

At your visit, a provider will perform an initial evaluation, using a small camera, called nasal endoscopy, to better visualize the nasal cavity. “This allows us to check for signs of bacterial infection, evaluate for abnormal masses or lesions, and identify a patient’s nasal anatomy” says Schneider. “Quite often, a CT scan is ordered to visualize the inner lining of the sinus cavities. Should this lining appear inflamed or thick then it is likely chronic sinusitis.”

Luckily Nebraska Medicine has many treatment options available for those suffering with chronic sinusitis. Medical treatments for chronic sinusitis involve a good daily regimen that may include a combination of nasal sprays, nasal rinses, and treatment of allergies if they play a role. This varies by person and what risk factors they may have. When medical options fail, it may be appropriate to consider an Endoscopic Sinus Surgery. “This procedure is done in the operating room under anesthesia. No excisions are made on the outside of the nose. Rather, instruments are used to unplug the opening to the sinuses and tissue is irrigated to remove chronic mucous,” explains Schneider. “Patients are able to go home the same day as the procedure; however, we recommend they take some time off of work to allow for recovery.” Overall sinus surgery can be a good option to clear out the sinus passages and allow for the pain, swelling and discomfort to go away so patients can return to living a normal, pain free life.

Think you might be suffering from chronic sinusitis? Make a same or next day appointment with one of our sinus specialists by calling 800-922-0000.