You’ve heard of sinusitis, nasal congestion, sinus drainage, sinus infection, sinus headache and allergy.
You have wondered and tried to determine:
Do I have a sinus infection?
Do I need antibiotics?
Do I need an
ear nose and throat specialist to treat my symptoms?
Do I need surgery?
What about laser treatment, or the balloon?
Sinus problems or the feeling that sinus infections are causing problems that are just not going away, are among the most common reasons for a visit to the doctor.
Cold versus Sinus
Many people feel that a cold is annoying but a sinus infection is something to be dreaded. In reality, both are probably “sinus infections”, one caused by a virus and the other possibly by bacteria. It is very difficult to distinguish between the two - cold symptoms are essentially the same as sinus infection symptoms, especially early on. Both viruses and bacteria can cause inflammation within the lining of the nose and in the lining of the chambers connected to the nose. (The paranasal sinuses or sinuses)
It is this inflammation that leads to (or, we sometimes assume, leads to) the symptoms we find annoying:
increased mucus that seems to accumulate in the throat
sinus pressure and
a general feeling that things are all plugged up
In the days before antibiotics, untreated bacterial infections sometimes led to deadly complications of the eye and brain. Thus it has become common practice to prescribe antibiotics for symptoms possibly caused by a bacterial sinus infection.
In reality, bacterial sinus infections only occur in about 15% of patients and about half of those infections are caused by bacteria most people would normally be expected to fight off. However, many people still have fear and uncertainty.
As doctors, we know patients get better faster when they receive antibiotics to treat a sinus infection caused by bacteria. We also know about 85% of patients (those with viruses) will not be helped by antibiotics. They usually get better on their own.
You are not harming yourself, in most cases, if you wait to see how your symptoms play out.
We suggest trying theses sinus treatment tips for the early days of an infection:
Try a 12 hour decongestant spray for three or four days
Take a standard dose of Ibuprofen - it can help relieve many symptoms and is an anti-inflammatory agent. It may also prevent the progression into a more serious problem.
Avoid blowing your nose – Many medical experts feel that blowing your nose causes the bacteria that normally live in your nose to be propelled into the sinus chambers. The sinus inflammation prevents the bacteria from being swept out by normal cleansing, which can lead to more significant bacterial sinus infection.
When to seek out an ear nose and throat specialist
You should seek the advice of a specialist when symptoms persist, get worse or don’t resolve after a few days. Most sinus symptoms can be managed with medical therapy. Surgery is used as a last resort or for severe infections.
Many patients who fail to relieve their symptoms with surgery are likely experiencing another underlying issue that is causing what seems to be a sinus issue. An ear nose and throat specialist can help you sort this out.
You should also seek the opinion of a specialist when:
You feel like antibiotics are being used too much
Surgery has been recommended, but you are unsure of the need for surgery
A specialist who is familiar with all of your options will help you make your best decision.