Acute Sinusitis vs. Chronic Sinusitis

Pounding headache, check. Stuffy nose, check. Exhaustion, check. Changing of the seasons and shifts in barometric pressure that exacerbate the symptoms, double-check. It all adds up to one awful case of sinusitis (aka rhinosinusitis).

But is it just one case? Or do you have these bouts several times a year?

Acute sinusitis is a temporary infection of the sinuses often associated with a cold. It usually clears up on its own in a short amount of time. When it lingers for weeks or recurs several times a year, it turns into a condition known as chronic sinusitis.

Subacute sinusitis is also used as a term referring to sinus infections that have lasted between 2 weeks and 2 months.

If you suffer from chronic sinusitis, you know the drill. You may feel better for a while, but you know it’s only a matter of time before the symptoms come back.

Did you know? The term “rhinosinusitis” is more specific than “sinusitis” because inflammation of the sinus almost always goes hand in hand with inflammation of the nasal cavities. The two terms can be used interchangeably.

Acute Sinusitis (Acute Rhinosinusitis)

Acute sinusitis is sometimes caused by a virus and will go away in roughly a week. it can also be bacterial or turn bacterial, which requires antibiotics. Sinusitis causes the space inside your nose to swell, interfering with mucus drainage and leading to buildup.

Symptoms include nasal congestion, swelling around your face and eyes, dental or facial pain, runny nose (often with thick yellow or greenish mucus). Other signs include headache, cough, ear pressure, toothaches, altered sense of smell, bad breath, fatigue and fever.

You may be more apt to develop sinusitis if you have hay fever or seasonal allergies, exposure to smoke, or nasal abnormalities such as a deviated septum. Allergies can often cause the sinus lining to swell. Though allergies do not cause sinusitis directly, they can lead to swelling of the lining, and if your sinus drainage pathways are narrow, they are more likely to become blocked, leading to sinusitis.

Supportive tTreatments include over-the-counter decongestants, home remedies (link to the herbal remedies article I wrote) and nasal saline irrigation. If your symptoms have not improved after 4-5 days, you should consult your doctor as you will likely need a course of antibiotics. Dr. Kayem recommends a minimum of a 10-day course, as shorter courses have a higher failure rate.

Chronic Sinusitis (Chronic Rhinosinusitis)

Twelve percent of the U.S. population suffers from chronic sinusitis, which means you have had a sinus infection that lasts more than  8 weeks or have had 4 or more infections in a year, despite treatment. It could be brought on by a virus, by growths (polyps) in your sinuses, or by sinus swelling.

This type of infection usually needs medical attention because the repeated swelling affects your sinus tissues. It may also sometimes be related an inflammatory disorder like asthma and allergies.

Breathing through your nose is a challenge, and your eyes might feel tender, with swelling. Other symptoms include nasal inflammation, runny nose, postnasal drainage, decreased sense of smell or taste, ear pain, headache, jaw and tooth aches, coughing, sore throat, bad breath and fatigue. Most of these symptoms are similar to acute sinusitis.

You may be more at risk if you have a deviated nasal septum that blocks sinus passages, respiratory tract infections such as colds and allergies. Medical conditions such as cystic fibrosis and HIV may lead to recurring sinusitis, as well. Asthma, nasal polyps, aspirin sensitivity, dental or fungal infections, tumors, and exposure to smoke can also to be associated with chronic sinus infections.

Because of the recurring factor of chronic sinus infections, your quality of life may suffer. In addition to the pain and general annoyance of fighting the symptoms, you’re also in a fight with your wallet due to myriad doctor visits and treatment plans. Significant fatigue and tiredness are also common symptoms associated with sinus disease.

Therefore it’s important to find a treatment that helps alleviate your pain. Here are few ways to fight chronic sinusitis:

  • Antibiotics: Doctors disagree about using antibiotics as a treatment for chronic sinusitis, but some people find relief this route.
  • Nasal corticosteroids: Steroids can help the body heal and reduce swelling. There are side effects, so be sure to discuss thoroughly with your doctor.
  • Nasal irrigation: Saline sprays and neti pots can clear the sinuses with water and reduce irritation.
  • Surgery: Some people with chronic sinusitis may need surgery to clean their sinuses.

Dr. Kayem Can Help

You should see a sinus doctor (ENT) to treat your chronic sinusitis. Dr. Marc Kayem has provided relief to sinusitis sufferers for over 20 years, and he takes a personalized approach depending on your unique nose and sinusitis history.

Sinusitis treatments have advanced considerably in recent years. Dr. Kayem offers in-office treatments like radio frequency turbinate reduction and balloon sinus dilation, both minimally invasive and enormously successful procedures. 

Sinus surgery is an excellent alternative when balloon sinuplasty is not feasible. Sinus surgery is a quick procedure (usually less than an hour), and is done under general anesthesia. You can go home the same day, and typically experience very little pain afterward.