Sinusitis and Air Pollution

A smoggy view of the Shanghai Skyline
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Medically speaking, sinusitis is a broad term that refers to inflammation of the sinus cavities. Sinusitis can be caused by bacterial, viral or fungal infections, allergies, or a number of other factors. Chronic sinusitis, sinusitis that persists for 12 or more weeks, is a prevalent illness among people living in the United States. It occurs in individuals of all ages, sexes, and races, and the incidence of chronic sinusitis appears to increasing yearly.

Small hair-like structures inside our nasal and sinus passageways, called cilia, normally "sweep" mucous and other debris out of our nose and sinuses. Any disruption in this process can lead to conditions in which sinusitis can occur. Exposure to chemicals such as cigarette smoke, smog, ozone, and other toxins have been shown in studies to paralyze the function of cilia inside our nasal and sinus passageways. When the sinuses become clogged, unable to drain and cut off from air they become a perfect environment for germs to thrive in. Therefore, the quality of the air we breathe can significantly affect our likelihood to develop sinusitis.

Both indoor and outdoor air pollution can contribute to sinusitis, some individuals may be more sensitive to one or the other.

Outdoor air pollution may include chemicals from carbon monoxide, lead, ozone, particle pollution, nitrogen and sulfur oxides, pollen, dust, and mold spores.

The severity of outdoor air pollution varies depending on location, with highly populated cities tending to have poorer quality air than rural areas. Some cities, such as Salt Lake City, Utah, suffer from a type of seasonal air pollution also referred to as inversions.

Public health and environmental experts have worked hard to improve the quality of the air in the United States and in general pollution has improved over the last two decades, though pollution still remains a significant problem.

Outdoor air pollution has been found to contribute to many health problems including respiratory illnesses such as asthma, difficulty breathing, heart disease, stroke and more. Here are some tips on protecting yourself from outdoor air pollution:

  • Check air quality levels in your area via newspaper, radio, or television. Avoid exercising or spending a lot of time outdoors when air quality is poor.
  • Avoid exercising near high traffic areas.
  • Plan outdoor activities in the early morning or in the evening when ozone levels tend to be lower.
  • Don't burn wood or trash, these are sources of particle pollution. Convert wood burning stoves to natural gas if possible.
  • Do not smoke cigarettes indoors and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.
  • Carpool or use public transportation.
  • Gas up your car at night.

If you are allergic to pollen:

  • Monitor pollen counts via television, newspaper, radio, or internet. Avoid doing yard work or doing a lot of outdoor activities when pollen counts are high.
  • Brush or shake your clothing and hair off before going inside to avoid bringing pollen into your home.
  • Shower and change your clothes after spending time outdoors to remove pollen from your hair skin and clothing.
  • Keep windows and doors closed; instead, use your air conditioner, and change filters often.

    As previously mentioned, indoor air pollution can also contribute to the development of sinusitis. This is especially true for individuals who are allergic to mold, pet dander, or dust. Indoor air pollution may even be a more pressing problem than outdoor air pollution since the majority of our time is spent indoors.


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