A stuffy or runny nose, sinus pressure, a tickle in the back of your throat — if this sounds all too familiar, you may have sinusitis. When your nasal passages are blocked, your sinuses may become inflamed and infected. Also called rhinosinusitis or a sinus infection, it can become chronic.
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Care at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
Care for Sinusitis at Hershey Medical Center
If you are suffering with sinusitis, you are certainly not alone. Most people deal with it at some point in their lives. Most cases go away without treatment, but sometimes you may need antibiotics, steroids, nasal steroid spray and nasal saline irrigation (flushing the nasal passages with specially buffered salt water). Treatment is geared to helping you with your symptoms, and most treatment involves over-the-counter therapies, such as decongestants, expectorants and pain relievers. Your primary care provider may consider antibiotics if your symptoms do not go away after seven to 10 days.
If you have had sinusitis symptoms for more than 12 weeks, it is called chronic sinusitis. If medicine is not helping, or if your doctor thinks it is related to other health problems, it is time to seek specialized care. You need a referral to an otolaryngologist, also called an ear, nose and throat doctor, or ENT.
What to expect
At Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, one of our otolaryngologists will assess your symptoms and examine you to find what is causing them. The exam may include using a special, tiny camera to look inside your nose, nasal passages and the area where your sinuses connect to your nose.
Your primary care doctor might order a computed tomography (CT) scan before you are referred to us. If the CT scan is done at Hershey Medical Center, our doctors can access the images. If it is done somewhere else, you should ask for a copy of the CT images on a CD and bring this to your ENT appointment.
We will talk to you about treatment options and next steps. We may recommend further testing, medications, nasal irrigations, and if other treatments do not work, sinus surgery.
Our otolaryngology team is skilled and experienced in all kinds of sinus surgery. Our techniques are minimally invasive and performed under anesthesia, so you will be asleep while we work. In most cases, you can go home the same day. The surgery enlarges the openings of the sinuses to improve drainage and reduce your nasal symptoms. We will talk to you about the surgery, how it will be performed, what to expect and any technology that might help you.
Our surgeons use advanced techniques and technology for your comfort and successful treatment. We might use:
- Balloon sinuplasty. A catheter (small, flexible tube) with a balloon attached is inserted into your inflamed sinus. The balloon expands, enlarging the sinus opening. The surgeon flushes out your sinus with saline and removes the catheter and balloon.
- Image guidance, or stereotactic surgery. Cameras with special sensors create a three-dimensional image to guide the surgeon during complex sinus surgery.
- A drug-eluting stent. A tiny device is placed in the sinus opening, where it expands and delivers medicine to reduce inflammation and help you heal.
You might still need specialized medical care after surgery. Our otolaryngologists work closely with your doctor and other specialists who may be involved in your care. Other specialists might include experts in allergy, asthma, immunology (the study of the immune system) or pulmonary medicine (related to the lungs).
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Symptoms, Diagnosis & Outlook
Sinusitis comes in many forms, and the symptoms are similar to other diseases. Viral illness (also known as colds), bacterial sinusitis, allergies and other irritants may contribute to your symptoms.
When people use the word “sinusitis,” they are usually discussing bacterial sinusitis. Most episodes of bacterial sinusitis begin as a viral illness (cold) and then become a secondary bacterial infection. Since a cold is a virus, it will not respond to antibiotics. It goes away on its own after a few days.
Bacterial sinusitis might go away on its own, but if it lasts more than 10 days, you may benefit from prescription treatment. Your doctor will let you know if you need antibiotics, and you should not take them unless you need them.
Symptoms of sinusitis may include:
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Decreased sense of smell
- Post nasal drip, when mucus collects at the back of your throat and feels like it is dripping
- Facial pressure or pain that might get worse when you lean forward
- Pain in the upper teeth
You might be surprised to learn that a bad headache is rarely a symptom of sinus problems. It is more likely a migraine or other headache condition and not a “sinus headache.” Your doctor can help you find out, so you can get the right treatment.
If you have had sinusitis symptoms for less than 12 weeks, no tests are needed. If your symptoms have lasted more than 12 weeks, your doctor will probably ask for a CT scan. Regular X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are rarely helpful tests compared to CT scans when investigating sinus concerns.
Outlook & Prognosis
Complications or severe problems from sinusitis are rare, but sinusitis can keep you from fully enjoying life. It can affect your work, school or other activities. Do not give up or just try to live with it. Our ear, nose and throat team can help. You might be surprised at how well you feel after treatment.