Acute vs. Chronic Sinusitis

Why do we have sinuses? The jury's out, although there are some theories out there. Some say these hollow cavities in our face help to humidify the air we breathe in, while others claim they help enhance our voices.

You might feel like they exist only to get you sick, and you wouldn't be alone. Thirty million Americans are diagnosed with sinusitis — infection of the sinuses — each year, while 15 percent of the population deals with chronic sinusitis.

The main difference between these two types of sinusitis is their duration. Chronic sinusitis lasts for more than twelve weeks, while acute sinusitis lasts less than that — usually, far less. With treatment, you can shorten the length of time you're sick and even alleviate the symptoms.

Here at ENT Specialists of Austin, we treat both types of sinusitis in our patients every day. We make sure you know exactly what's causing your suffering and what you need to do to treat it. Failure to address sinus issues early on can make them last longer or even turn them into bigger health problems.

What is acute sinusitis?

Acute sinusitis usually occurs due to a virus or bacteria infecting the sinuses, causing inflammation and resulting in fluid buildup in your nasal passages.

You'll likely feel discharge coming from your nose or even down the back of your throat, making it hard to breathe through your nose. Your face might become tender, possibly leading to a headache that gets worse when you move your head around.

Usually, acute sinusitis is caused by the common cold and it resolves on its own. Come to see us if your symptoms are getting worse over the course of a few days, if you have a persistent fever or if you have a history of recurring sinusitis. You might have some other condition, like a deviated septum, that is making you more vulnerable.

When it gets worse, acute sinusitis can lead to pressure in the ears, jaw pain, cough, fatigue, and even fever. Further complications are rare, but acute sinusitis can turn into chronic sinusitis, other infections and even the loss of sight or smell.

The best ways to both prevent and treat sinusitis include not smoking as well as using a humidifier to keep the air moist, particularly when you're sick with a cold. An antibiotic might be prescribed if the cause is known to be bacterial.

What is chronic sinusitis?

If your sinusitis lasts for twelve weeks or more, you likely have chronic sinusitis.

To diagnose this and check your health for any other conditions, ENT Specialists of Austin can perform a couple of tests. We will use a nasal endoscopy to image your nose and sinuses. We can also perform a sinus CT scan, which will help characterize the local swelling and assess the severity of your sinusitis.

Treatment of chronic sinusitis centers around alleviating its daily symptoms in the long term. The main approach we use is to try to reduce the swelling. We prescribe corticosteroids and monitor how your symptoms change over time. Intranasal steroids have proven to be effective and fast-acting.

Saline rinses are often used to help flush out some of the pathogens and can be used in acute sinusitis as well, especially if you are experiencing severe congestion. Again, lifestyle factors should be taken into account: Avoid smoking, and try to maintain moist air with a humidifier, especially at night.

Sometimes these methods do not work and chronic sinusitis persists. We then discuss surgical options with you. These usually occur in patients with nasal polyps, a deviated septum or other sinus structural issues.

Balloon sinuplasty is a routine, outpatient procedure that we can carry out. A tube with a balloon at one end is inserted into your nose, targeting blockages. The balloon is then filled with air, enlarging the passage and helping it drain.

We can diagnose and treat your sinusitis, whether it's acute or chronic. Call us today at ENT Specialists of Austin to make an appointment.

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