Protect yourself from sinusitis this cold, flu season
By Dr. Jerry Schreibstein, MD, FACS
Ear, Nose & Throat Surgeons of W. Mass.
With the cold and flu season already upon us, sinusitis cases won't be far behind, and neither will the call for antibiotics and other treatment.
Acute sinusitis occurs when bacteria infects the sinus cavities that lie behind the bones of the forehead, nose and cheek. Around 37 million people are infected with sinusitis each year, making it one of the most common health conditions in America, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology.
As an otolaryngologist with Ear, Nose & Throat Surgeons of Western New England, I find that it may be difficult for patients to know whether the nasal con-gestion, facial pressure and nasal discharge they are experiencing result from a cold or a sinus infection.
Just because you feel the pain and pressure in your sinuses and have green-colored dis-charge, it isn't necessarily a bacterial infection. The symptoms you are experiencing could result from a cold, which is a viral infection. Viral infections generally last from three to 10 days. Most people who have viral infections do not need antibiotics to recover.
Simple things like using moisturizing salt water (saline) nasal sprays, topical decongestant sprays for example, Afrin and Neo-Synephrine oral decon-gestants, such as pseudo-ephedrine type preparations, and saline irrigations can help prevent the need for antibiotics. Antihistamines should be avoided as they can prevent sinus drainage, which could actually result in a bacterial infection. Patients with thyroid disease or high blood pressure should consult their primary care physician before taking theses medications.
Patients with allergy can experience similar symptoms, but their drainage is usually clear and sneezing may accompany the symptoms. The use of antihis-tamines and prescription nasal steroid sprays like Veramyst or Nasonex may be helpful to alleviate the symptoms of allergies.
The cold or allergy could develop into a bacterial infection in the sinuses. The key thing to keep in mind is that your symptoms, including colored nasal discharge, fever and tooth discomfort, either intensify after seven days or persist for more than 10 days. This condition, formally known as bacterial rhinosinusitis, does call for antibiotics, which need to be prescribed by a physician. Anti-biotics are targeted towards the common bacteria that cause sinusitis.
Overuse of antibiotics can be harmful. First, they can promote resistance, which will mean that the drugs won't be effective in fighting future infections. Also, antibiotics kill good, as well as, bad, bacteria. Everybody has both in their systems, and destroying both may mean the individual will suffer from yeast infections, whether in the form of oral thrush, vaginal infections in women, or uncomfortable skin rashes.
Patients taking antibiotics also sometimes report stomach pain and diarrhea. Taking a probiotic, such as eating a yogurt with active cultures each day, can prevent such issues.
Some adults suffer from recurring sinus infections. When this occurs, the individual should seek help from an ear, nose and throat specialist, who can look for the underlying causes of the infections with specialized equipment, such as endoscopes.
The recurrent acute or persistent sinusitis could be occurring because of a deviated septum, nasal polyp, resistant bacteria or chronic dental infections. The septum is the cartilage and bony structure which divides the two halves of the nasal passage.
In some people, the septum is significantly off-center and may obstruct the flow of mucous from the sinuses. Nasal polyps are small growths in the nose that often develop from chronic inflammation or allergy. These can also block the sinus drainage pathways and lead to loss of sense of smell. The roots of the upper molars sit on the floor of the sinuses and at times dental infections can be the cause of sinus disease.
Medical treatment with antibiotics and often nasal steroid sprays are the treatment of choice for recurrent acute and chronic sinus difficulties. Sometimes surgery is recommended, es-pecially when there is ob-struction of the sinus drainage pathways. This can be accom-plished with minimally invasive surgical techniques. Research shows that the majority of people who undergo sinus surgery have fewer symptoms and a better quality of life, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology.
Remember not all head colds require antibiotics. If the symptoms persist and you think you have a bacterial sinus infection, you should see your physician or an ear, nose and throat surgeon.