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Where are the Most Common Problems with the Paranasal Sinuses?

By T. Flanagan
Updated May 17, 2024
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The hollow cavities in the skull bones that connect with the nasal passage are called the paranasal sinuses. They act like an air filtration system for the body and trap bacteria, pollutants, and debris in their mucus. There are four pair of paranasal sinusues and include the frontal sinus, the maxillary sinus, the ethmoid sinus and the sphenoid sinus. In addition to filtering air, they also warm inhaled air, increase vocal resonance, and decrease the weight of the skull. Common problems with the paranasal sinuses include sinusitis and sinus infections, and they are susceptible to polyps and cancer.

Sinusitis, the inflammation of the sinuses, is the most common problem affecting the paranasal sinuses. Causes of sinusitis include inflammation caused by infection, allergy, the common cold, and exposure to environmental irritants. Symptoms include congestion, difficulty breathing, swelling, and pain around the eyes and face, headache, and nasal discharge.

Acute sinusitis is the temporary inflammation of the paranasal sinuses. The sinuses become swollen and congested when they are inflamed by an irritant such as bacteria, fungus, or an allergy. Treatments include over-the-counter decongestants, pain relievers, saline nasal spray, and rest.

If sinusitis lasts longer than 12 weeks despite treatment, it is called chronic sinusitis. This can be caused by infection, trauma to the face, a deviated nasal septum, or allergies. Frequent allergic responses to pervasive environmental irritants such as pollen, pet dander, or mold might cause the mucus membranes lining the paranasal sinuses to thicken, leading to habitual congestion. Depending on the cause, treatment might include nasal sprays, corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, decongestants, pain relievers, antibiotics, or surgery.

A sinus infection occurs when a virus or bacteria grows in the sinus cavities and causes inflammation, mucus, and blockage. Common symptoms include pus-like nasal discharge, headache, sinus pressure, fever, sore throat, fatigue, cough, bad breath, and facial sensitivity. Bacterial infections are usually treated with antibiotics. Only the symptoms of a viral infection can be treated, as antibiotics are not effective against viruses.

Sufferers of frequent sinus infections or chronic sinusitis might consider being checked for nasal polyps. These non-cancerous growths in the sinuses or nasal passages often go unnoticed but can lead to breathing difficulties, a loss of the sense of smell, frequent infections, and other problems. People with asthma, cystic fibrosis, and allergies are specifically prone to developing them. Nasal polyps can be treated with medication, but surgery is often necessary.

There are several types of cancer that might affect the paranasal sinuses. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common and affects the lining of sinuses. Smoking, long-term exposure to certain chemicals, and inhalation of excessive dust in the workplace have all been associated with the development of paranasal sinus cancer.

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