Sinus problems can occur for several reasons. When the sinuses present symptoms more often than not, though, we may diagnose a person with chronic sinusitis. Because this term has become more familiar in recent years, many patients ask us if they have chronic sinusitis at their very first visit. It is also one of the first questions we’re trying to answer through our comprehensive consultation and examination.
What is chronic sinusitis, anyway?
Part of being able to determine if you might have chronic sinusitis is knowing what this condition is.
Essentially, chronic sinusitis is inflammation of the mucosa, the thin, moist lining of the sinus cavities. Not just any inflammation, but inflammation that persists for 6 to 8 weeks or more. Chronic sinusitis is not merely an infection, though that may play a role. When we get right to it, the condition is related to chronic, low-grade inflammation in the sinuses that then gets easily exacerbated by bacteria. People with chronic sinusitis may be given longer-courses of antibiotics to manage their condition. This can be helpful but it does not eliminate the inflammation that reacts to bacteria.
Back to the Main Question
Getting back to how you can know if you might have chronic sinusitis, we’ll say that it may not be as easy to tell as one might think. This is because there is a tendency to assume based on symptoms alone. To accurately diagnose chronic sinusitis, it is necessary to perform a thorough examination that can rule out other nasal and sinus conditions that produce symptoms that are similar to chronic sinusitis. These conditions include upper respiratory tract infection, a common cold, nasal allergies, and recurrent acute sinusitis. Each of these conditions can cause symptoms like:
- Sinus pressure
- Sinus and/or nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Nasal obstruction
- Post-nasal drip
- Decrease or altered sense of smell
- Facial tenderness or pain
Even a seasoned sinus specialist can have a difficult time pinning down a diagnosis of chronic sinusitis. The most significant factor may be how long symptoms have been ongoing, though this has to be examined carefully to rule out allergic rhinitis. A definitive diagnosis may be made utilizing CAT scan imaging of the sinuses, which can show the thickening of the sinus mucosa.