What Causes Sinusitis?

A Definition of Sinusitis

Sinusitis occurs when your sinuses (those hollow air spaces within the bones surrounding your nose) become inflamed. Sinuses produce mucus, which drains what are common causes of sinusitisinto the nose, but if your nose is swollen, the sinuses become blocked, which causes pain.

There are several types of sinusitis: acute, subacute, chronic, and recurrent. Acute sinusitis, which may last up to four weeks, often begins as a cold and then becomes a bacterial infection.  Subacute sinusitis lasts 4-12 weeks, chronic sinusitis lasts more than 12 weeks and may continue for months or years, and recurrent sinusitis occurs when people have several attacks of sinusitis within one year.

Causes of Sinusitis

While sinusitis may mimic a cold, it often is not contagious or spread from one person to another. Sinusitis may be caused by allergies, nasal problems, or certain diseases, especially in the case of acute and chronic sinusitis. Sinusitis also may be caused by chemical or particulate irritation of the sinuses.

Common causes of sinusitis include bacterial infections, viruses, and fungi such as molds. People with weak immune systems are at a higher risk for developing bacterial or fungal sinusitis. In these cases, sinusitis is treated with antibiotics, depending on the type of infection. Healthcare professionals typically prescribe antibiotics to treat bacterial sinusitis only if symptoms, including discolored nasal discharge, last longer than seven to ten days, because overuse of antibiotics causes an increase in antibiotic resistance.

People with allergies and asthma frequently suffer from chronic sinusitis. Allergy sufferers often have swollen, congested, and inflamed nasal and sinus passages because their bodies work overtime to rid themselves of the particles that trigger allergies. These swollen passages lead to sinusitis. Pollen, molds, dust mites, and pet dander also lead to year-round allergy symptoms that often result in sinusitis. Asthmatics are another group of people who face chronic sinusitis because of their chronic nasal inflammation and irritation. Treating allergy and asthma symptoms often helps patients to avoid developing sinusitis.

It’s important to note that causes of sinusitis vary between adults and children. Adults who have nasal mucous membrane swelling due to a cold, blockage of drainage ducts, facial structural differences that narrow drainage ducts, nasal polyps, and immune deficiencies are at a much higher risk for developing sinusitis. Adults who take medications that suppress the immune system also are at a higher risk of sinusitis.

Children with allergies are at a higher risk for developing sinusitis, as are those who commonly contract illnesses from other children, who use pacifiers, who drink bottles while lying on their backs, and who live with someone who smokes.

Symptoms of Sinusitis

Sinusitis may be confused with a cold because they share similar symptoms. However, sinusitis lasts longer than a cold and often requires diagnosis and treatment by a medical professional. That’s why it is important to be on the lookout for the symptoms of sinusitis, including

  • fever
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • cough
  • congestion
  • postnasal drip (mucus drainage at the back of the throat)
  • swelling of the sinus area beside your nose and under your eyes
  • head pain between and above the eyes
  • nasal stuffiness
  • sore throat
  • cough

Sinusitis Treatments

Your healthcare professional will determine whether you have sinusitis based on your symptoms and after examining your nose and face. He also may conduct imaging tests, such as CAT scans, to determine the depth and severity of the infection. Because sinusitis can last so long, patients often use a combination of treatments to get relief. Common sinusitis treatments include antibiotics and over-the-counter medications such as decongestants and pain relievers. Sinusitis sufferers may also use heating pads on the inflamed areas, saline nasal sprays, and vaporizers as natural sinus infection remedies to help relieve their symptoms and pain.

Warding Off Sinusitis with Supplements and Probiotics

Sinusitis is so painful and makes it so difficult to concentrate that it is better to be proactive than reactive when it comes to sinus care. Weakened immune systems often are a culprit in people with chronic sinusitis. Supplements such as vitamin C, supplements for sinusitisbromelain, and zinc have been shown to boost the immune system and reduce inflammation of the sinuses because of their anti-inflammatory properties.

Probiotics may be the answer to sinusitis and nasal congestion, because the sinus cavity contains microbes that comprise our microbiome. Several studies show that probiotics may be more effective at treating chronic sinusitis because they “reduce colonization of the nose and upper respiratory tract by pathogenic bacteria.” Probiotics also disrupt the biofilms that are common in chronic sinusitis and that are difficult to treat with other methods. Additionally, probiotics have been shown to effectively prevent the upper respiratory tract infections that often lead to chronic sinusitis. Finally, patients who use probiotics and take other steps to restore their microbiome often reduce their sinusitis symptoms and attacks.

Del-Immune V®, derived from a probiotic strain of Lactobacillus rhamnosus (DV strain), and Delpro™, an advanced probiotic formula containing Del-Immune V® as well as other essential probiotics that contribute to intestinal health, are two such options that can boost your body’s natural immunity and help to ward off sinusitis and other acute or chronic illnesses. Keeping your digestive tract in balance is an important factor in overall well-being, but your digestive tract – your “gut” – also plays an integral role in immune health. When your gut is out of balance, your immune health suffers and pathogens are able to enter your system, leading to colds and infections. Supplementing a balanced, healthy diet with probiotic supplements is one of the most effective ways to give your immune system a natural boost.

Because sinusitis may involve bacterial or fungal infections, it is important that you reach out to a healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms and diagnosis. But, you also should consider the supplements and probiotics that can help to boost your immune system and strengthen your microbiome to reduce your risk of developing sinusitis in the first place.

Images via Flickr by NIAID and Ashley Steel