Acute sinusitis or acute rhinosinusitis is inflammation of the cavities around the nasal passages (sinuses). The inflammation affects the upper respiratory tract (mucous membranes of the nose, sinuses and throat). The swelling from the inflammation causes obstruction in the sinus cavities leading to drainage problems and sinusitis symptoms.
Furthermore, blockage in the sinuses produces a moist environment, the perfect place for an infection.
Acute sinus inflammation causes difficulty breathing through the nose and makes the area around the eyes and face feel swollen. This may lead to a headache or a throbbing facial pain.
The most frequent cause of acute sinusitis is the common cold. However, allergies, bacterial and fungal infections can also cause acute sinusitis.
Most cases of acute sinusitis can be treated with home remedies; however, persistent or recurrent sinusitis can cause severe infections and other complications.
Recurrent sinusitis or sinusitis that lasts longer than 8 weeks is known as chronic sinusitis.
The most common symptoms of acute sinusitis include:
- Nasal obstruction of congestion (difficulty breathing through the nose)
- Thick yellow or greenish discharge from the nose or down the back of the throat
- Pain, tenderness, pressure and swelling around your eyes, nose, cheeks and forehead
- Reduced sense of smell and taste
- Cough (may get worse at night)
Other symptoms of acute sinusitis:
- Ear pain
- Upper jaw and teeth ache
- Bad breath (halitosis)
Signs and symptoms that indicate a serious infection:
- Pain and swelling around the eyes
- Swollen forehead
- Severe headache
- Double vision or vision problems
- Stiff neck
- Shortness of breath
The main causes of acute sinusitis include:
- Viral infection: acute sinusitis is most frequently caused by the common cold.
- Bacterial infection: infection in the upper respiratory tract that lasts longer than 7-10 days is more likely a bacterial infection.
- Fungal infection: sinus abnormalities or a weakened immune system increase the risk of developing a fungal infection.
The following conditions can cause sinusitis without the presence of an underlying infection:
- Allergies: allergies such as hay fever cause an inflammation that can block the sinuses.
- Nasal polyps or tumors: abnormal tissue growths that cause blockage of the nasal passages or sinuses.
- Deviated nasal septum: a condition where the septum, the wall between the nostrils, is crooked and may block the nasal passages.
- Tooth infection: in rare cases a tooth infection may be the cause of acute sinusitis
- Other medical conditions: complications of other medical conditions such as cystic fibrosis, gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) or disorders in the immune system can lead to sinusitis or increase the risk of a sinus infection.
The following may increase the risk of developing acute sinusitis:
- Allergies (hay fever and other allergies increase the risk of sinusitis)
- Nasal passage abnormalities (nasal polyps or tumors or a deviated septum)
- Medical conditions (cystic fibrosis, GERD, immune system disorders)
- Regular/frequent exposure to pollutants (cigarette smoke)
The complications that arise from acute sinusitis are:
- Asthma flare-ups: an asthma attack can be a result from acute sinusitis.
- Chronic sinusitis: acute sinusitis can be a flare-up of a lasting chronic sinusitis (sinusitis that lasts more than 8 weeks).
- Meningitis: meningitis occurs as a result of the sinus infection spreading to the lining of the brain.
- Ear infection
- Vision problems: reduced vision and blindness can occur if the sinus infection spreads to the eye socket. If untreated, this complication may cause permanent damage.