Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinuses, the hollow cavities within the cheekbones, around your eyes and behind your nose.  It is often caused by a bacterial infection and may occur following a respiratory infection such as the common cold.  When something blocks the mucus in these cavities from draining normally, an infection can occur. People with allergic rhinitis (allergies) or asthma are more likely to suffer from chronic sinusitis because the airways are more likely to become inflamed when allergies or asthma are present.

Acute Sinusitis refers to sinusitis symptoms lasting less than 4 weeks. Most cases begin as the common cold.  Symptoms often go away within a week to 10 days, but in some people, a bacterial infection develops and antibiotics may be required.

Chronic Sinusitis is often diagnosed when acute symptoms have gone on for more than 8 weeks despite medical treatment.


  • Thick nasal discharge
  • Nasal congestion
  • Postnasal drip, often with bad taste
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Pain in the teeth
  • Decreased sense of smell
  • Wheeze, if asthmatic

How is chronic sinusitis treated?

The allergist will conduct a medical history, including an assessment of your symptoms and a relevant physical exam to look for polyps or changes in the anatomy of the nose (if necessary, a CT scan will be ordered).  The allergist may also conduct skin testing (link to skin testing) to determine which triggers are causing nasal swelling. Once the allergist knows the triggers that are causing your chronic symptoms, a treatment plan will be recommended.  Most treatment plans include:

  • Saline irrigation
  • Nasal steroid sprays
  • Antihistamines/decongestants
  • Antibiotics

When the underlying cause of chronic sinusitis is treated effectively, it frequently disappears or becomes less of a problem.  Since allergies can lead to chronic sinusitis, immunotherapy (or allergy shots) (link to allergy shots) is the most effective long-term approach towards a cure.  Immunotherapy is the only way to rid the body of nasal allergies.  In essence, it is a vaccine against allergies.  As you receive immunotherapy, you gradually decrease your sensitivity and build up a tolerance to your allergens.

How can I tell if it is allergies or a sinus condition?

It can be difficult to determine if your nasal symptoms are secondary to allergies (link to What are Allergies?) or from a sinus infection or structural abnormality.  Allergy symptoms can be seasonal or year-round and can last months at a time, just as chronic sinus infection can.  A careful medical history, physical exam, allergy testing and, at times, a Sinus X-Ray or CT scan, can help define the cause of the symptoms.
Chronic sinusitis symptoms can interfere with your daily life and many people who suffer from this condition find it difficult to concentrate at work or enjoy social activities.  Seeking the help of a board certified allergist is essential to finding the underlying cause of this chronic health problem.


Credit: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology