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Sinusitis is an inflammation or swelling of the sinuses, which are the hollow spaces in the bones of the face. It occurs when the nasal passages become swollen — usually due to a cold or respiratory allergies — and don’t allow the sinuses to drain the mucus they produce. Air and mucus get trapped in the sinuses, causing pain.

Sinusitis is sometimes referred to as a sinus infection or rhinosinusitis. When sinusitis occurs in children it is called pediatric sinusitis.   

There are four pairs of sinuses that can become inflamed:

  • Frontal, over the eyes
  • Maxillary, inside the cheekbones
  • Ethmoid, between the eyes
  • Sphenoid, behind the eyes

Sinusitis: what you should know

Sinusitis symptoms might include the following:

  • Sinus congestion, pressure or pain in your forehead, cheeks, jaw, nose, or between or behind your eyes
  • Thick nasal secretions that can be white, yellow, greenish or tinged with blood. (When these secretions collect in the back of your throat, you’re experiencing postnasal drip.)
  • A stuffy nose and feeling of fullness all over your face
  • Tiredness
  • Diminished sense of smell
  • Cough, especially one that gets worse at night
  • Sore throat
  • Bad breath
  • Fever

How can I get help for sinusitis?

There are two types of sinusitis:

  • Acute sinusitis
    • Lasts up to four weeks, although most cases last seven to 10 days
    • Usually caused by a cold or other virus
    • May require treatment of symptoms
    • In some cases, trapped mucus provides a breeding ground for bacteria that cause a bacterial sinus infection
  • Chronic sinusitis (also called chronic rhinosinusitis)
    • Lasts 12 weeks or longer
    • These are the most common symptoms:
      • Recurrent headaches
      • Postnasal drip
      • Fatigue
      • Diminished sense of smell
      • Facial pressure
      • Frequent episodes of infections that require antibiotics
    • Can be exacerbated by the following:
      • Nasal polyps, or small growths of tissue that obstruct nasal passages
      • Respiratory allergies
    • See your primary care doctor if you have facial pain, thick nasal discharge or pain in your upper jaw that lasts for more than a week or gets worse over time.
    • If your doctor suspects that you have chronic sinusitis, he or she is likely to refer you to an otolaryngologist for testing and treatment.
    • If you have asthma, sinusitis might cause it to worsen. Your doctor may adjust your ongoing asthma treatment.
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Care for sinusitis at Rush

Specialists at the Rush Sinus Program are experts in treating every kind of airway issue.

If you are diagnosed with acute sinusitis, your treatment might include the following:

  • Antibiotics for 10 to 14 days if you have a bacterial infection
  • Steroid nasal sprays
  • Pain relievers
  • Oral decongestants
  • Decongestant nasal sprays

If you are diagnosed with chronic sinusitis, your treatment might include the following:

  • Antibiotics for three to six weeks if you have a bacterial infection
  • Steroid nasal sprays to reduce swelling
  • Saline nasal spray or rinses to remove thick mucus

A very small subset of chronic sinusitis sufferers can benefit from sinus surgery. Your doctor may recommend endoscopic surgery, a minimally invasive way to open blocked sinus drainage pathways and allow mucus to flow more freely

In children, chronic sinusitis is sometimes treated by removing the adenoids, which are tissues above the roof of the mouth that can obstruct nasal passages.

Why choose Rush for sinusitis care

  • National recognition. The ear, nose and throat program at Rush is ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and is the highest-ranked ENT program in Illinois.
  • Specialized expertise. Ear, nose and throat physicians in the Rush Sinus Program have fellowship training in rhinology and skull base surgery. This additional specialized training gives them the expertise to handle the most severe sinus problems and perform complex sinus surgeries, including minimally invasive skull base surgery to remove tumors and revision sinus surgery.
  • Coordinated care. Because sinus problems are often associated with other conditions, physicians in the program coordinate with specialists at Rush in allergy and immunology, pulmonology, gastroenterology and rheumatology to provide integrated care for adult and pediatric patients. This coordinated care includes evaluation, diagnosis and the creation of a treatment plan tailored to your needs. 
  • Access to clinical trials. Rush is an academic medical center with a thriving research program, so patients often have the opportunity to participate in clinical trials for new therapies.

Departments and programs that treat this condition