What is Rhinosinusitis?

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Rhinosinusitis. Tetra Images/Getty Images

Question: What is Rhinosinusitis?


Rhinosinusitis is the inflammation of the nasal passages and sinus cavities. It is usually caused by allergies or an infection. It causes a combination of symptoms of rhinitis, (the medical term for nasal symptoms), and sinusitis, including:

  • Runny nose
  • Post nasal drip
  • Congestion
  • Facial pain or discomfort
  • Toothaches
  • Feeling of fullness around the nose, under the eyes and forehead
  • Decreased sense of smell
  • headaches or a feeling of pressure in the head or face

Rhinosinusitis is divided into categories depending on how long the illness lasts. For example, acute rhiniosinusitis (a relatively short duration), subacute rhinosinusitis (an episode that lasts a bit longer than is expected), and chronic rhinosinusitis (for symptoms/infections that fail to resolve within 12 weeks). Acute sinusitis often occurs after you have been sick with a cold virus or upper respiratory infection. Chronic sinusitis on the other hand is often the result of allergies or even a fungus.

Treatment For Rhinosinusitis

Treatment for rhinosinusitis varies, and is usually based on the duration and severity of symptoms. If possible, a culture should be taken of nasal drainage to identify the cause of the illness. If your doctor's evaluation suggests that the infection is bacterial, antibiotics will be prescribed.

Antibiotics will not be given for infections caused by viruses, since antibiotics will have no effect whatsoever on these infections.

Symptoms can be often similar regardless of the cause, and can be managed using a few different techniques, such as over-the-counter pain relievers, (like acetaminophen or ibuprofen), decongestants (like pseudoephedrine), nasal irrigation, or topical steroids.

Allergic rhinosinusitis is often treated with antihistamines as well.

Nasal decongestants are commonly used to treat the symptoms of rhinosinusitis and since many are now available over-the-counter people often self medicate with these drugs before seeing a physician. It should be noted that if misused some nasal decongestants such as Afrin (oxymetazoline) can lead to a condition called rebound congestion or nasal spray addiction.

Chronic sinusitis has been shown to be self diagnosed incorrectly by many individuals who mistakenly believe that they are suffering from seasonal allergies and use over-the-counter medications to treat their symptoms, (one study showed this to be true in 50% of chronic sinusitis cases). For this reason, even if you think you know what is causing your symptoms, it's always a good idea to be evaluated by a qualified health professional.

In the case of chronic rhinosinusitis, sometimes endoscopic sinus surgery is necessary. Endoscopic sinus surgery has been proven very successful in treating chronic rhinosinusitis.

Untreated rhinosinusitis can impair your quality of life and lead to other conditions such as nasal polyps, the growth of abnormal tissue in the sinuses or sleep apnea.


American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Sinuses, Sinusitis, Rhinosinusitis. Accessed: August 29, 2015 from http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions-dictionary/sinuses,-sinusitis,-rhinosinusitis.aspx

UpToDate. Chronic Rhinosinusitis. Accessed: May 21, 2016 from http://www.uptodate.com/contents/chronic-rhinosinusitis-beyond-the-basics

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