What Is Sinusitis?

More Americans suffer from sinusitis than diabetes, asthma, or coronary heart disease. Sinusitis affects 37 million Americans each year, making it one of the most common health problems. Sinusitis impacts a person’s quality of life and accounts for over $8 billion in annual health care expenditures.

Acute bacterial sinusitis is an infection of the sinus cavities caused by bacteria. It usually is preceded by an allergy exacerbation or an upper respiratory infection, like a common cold. However, unlike a cold, or allergy, bacterial sinusitis usually requires a physician’s exam along with diagnosis and treatment with an antibiotic to cure the infection and prevent future complications.

The Purpose of the Sinuses

The sinuses are hollow spaces in the skull (i.e. the frontal, ethmoid, sphenoid and maxillary) which serve to lighten the skull and give resonance to the voice. The purpose of the sinuses, which open into the nasal cavity, is to generate mucus to keep the nose from drying out during breathing and to trap unwanted materials so that they do not reach the lungs.


Normally, our sinuses produce about a liter of mucus per day!  This mucus is usually the consistency of saliva.  After it is formed in the sinuses, it drains into the nasal passages, and then into the throat where it is swallowed without being noticed.

The Effect of Colds and Allergy Attacks

However, when you have a cold or allergy attack, your sinuses become inflamed and are unable to drain. This can lead to thickening of the mucus, congestion, and interruption to the flow of mucus.   The mucous will become more noticeable as it drains into the throat and may become infected. You may be diagnosed with acute sinusitis if you have up to 4 weeks of purulent nasal drainage accompanied by nasal obstruction, facial pain-pressure-fullness, or both.  The sinus infection is likely bacterial if it persists for 7-10 days or longer, or if the symptoms worsen after an initial improvement.

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