Chronic Sinusitis: 10 Questions Answered

Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant

More than 30 million Americans suffer from chronic sinusitis. If you’re one of them, you know the pain and discomfort that comes with this condition. Learn more about chronic sinusitis from the following questions and answers. Have questions of your own? A friendly, expert healthcare provider at your local GoHealth Urgent Care center is ready to help you get back to health.

What is chronic sinusitis?

Chronic sinusitis is a long-lasting sinus infection. Behind the bones of the upper face are moist spaces called sinuses. Sinusitis occurs when the tissue lining those cavities—typically filled with air—becomes swollen. The inflammation can trap mucus and air in the sinuses. Beyond pressure and pain, a bacterial infection can develop.

Sinusitis lasting less than four weeks is classified as acute. When it lasts eight to twelve weeks or more, including for months and even years, it is called chronic sinusitis and one should seek treatment at a GoHealth Urgent Care center.

What causes chronic sinusitis?

When people have had a cold or suffer from allergies they may develop chronic sinusitis if the inflammation in their tissue doesn’t go down quickly enough to allow the sinuses to drain. Dust, mold, pollen, or spores inhaled into the nose can trigger inflammation.

Chronic health conditions—like asthma, GERD, HIV, or cystic fibrosis—are linked to increased risk for chronic sinusitis. For individuals with weak immune systems, a fungus may lead to chronic sinusitis.

The shape of an individual’s nasal passages, such as if they are narrower or have a growth, may also prevent normal sinus draining.

What are the symptoms of chronic sinusitis?

Symptoms of chronic sinusitis include

  • pressure and pain in the face
  • discolored, thick mucus
  • congestion or postnasal drip
  • difficulty breathing
  • lack of energy, fatigue, diminished sleep
  • poor mood
  • headache
  • cough
  • fever
  • dental pain
  • bad breath
  • respiratory tract infection

Acute and chronic sinusitis share symptoms. If those symptoms last more than four weeks, sinusitis is considered chronic.

How is chronic sinusitis diagnosed?

For individuals wondering how to know if they have chronic sinusitis, diagnosis can be challenging. Chronic sinusitis can be mistaken for other conditions, like rhinitis, which is the swelling of the mucous membrane of the nose.

Examining the sinuses, nose, and throat may provide a visual confirmation that chronic sinusitis is the cause of pain and pressure. To determine if bacterial chronic sinusitis is present, a healthcare provider can take a culture of the nose to test. A structural blockage, due to the shape of sinus passages, can be explored through additional tests like an MRI of the sinuses. Healthcare providers focused on the ear, nose, and throat or allergies can provide more specialized care.

What are the complications and risks of chronic sinusitis?

Beyond pain and discomfort, chronic sinusitis can make breathing and sleeping difficult, which can negatively impact many areas of someone’s life.

If chronic inflammation damages the olfactory nerve, it can permanently impact the sense of smell, or even cause someone to lose their sense of smell completely.

Other serious complications include loss of vision or skin and bone infections due to a sinus infection spreading. If inflammation spreads to the brain or spinal cord membranes, it can lead to meningitis.

When should someone who has chronic sinusitis see a healthcare provider?

If your chronic sinusitis symptoms include a severe headache, fever, or discharge that looks brown or green, it might be time to make the trip to urgent care. If sinusitis symptoms lasting more than a few days aren’t improving, or are worsening, a visit with a healthcare provider is a smart next step.

Are there home remedies that alleviate the symptoms of chronic sinusitis?

There are things you can do at home to help with the symptoms of chronic sinusitis.

  • A humidifier or breathing steam vapors, like in a shower, can provide relief.
  • A warm, wet towel placed on the face can alleviate pressure.
  • A sinus rinse, bulb syringe, or saline solution, can flush out sinuses.
  • Upping fluid intake and getting plenty of sleep aids in recovery.

What are the treatment options for chronic sinusitis?

Chronic sinusitis caused by a bacterial infection requires antibiotics. It may be a longer course of treatment than for an acute case of sinusitis. If a virus causes chronic sinusitis, antibiotics will not be effective. Another prescription option is inhaled steroids, which reduce swelling in the sinus membranes. Oral steroids are more effective for more challenging cases of chronic sinusitis.

An over-the-counter pain relief—acetaminophen or ibuprofen—can help ease both pain and swelling. OTC medicines shouldn’t be taken for more than ten days, so it’s important to talk to a GoHealth Urgent Care provider if symptoms haven’t improved. Decongestants reduce the amount of mucus, but only when label instructions are followed. If taken too long, they can increase congestion.

Uncontrolled allergies are responsible for many cases of chronic sinusitis. Avoiding allergen triggers, using an antihistamine, or considering allergy shots are options to reduce inflammation.

Some individuals consider surgery to make it easier for sinus passages to drain, either by enlarging the passages or removing blockages. Sinuses can be drained, or sinus openings widened. Growths or structural abnormalities can be removed or corrected through surgery.

A combination of home treatments and OTC options, as well as a treatment plan created by a GoHealth Urgent Care provider, can address symptoms and underlying causes of chronic sinusitis. There may not be a cure for chronic sinusitis, but long-term treatment options can help keep symptoms in check.

Can someone prevent chronic sinusitis?

The causes behind chronic sinusitis can provide insights into prevention. Cigarette use, as well as exposure to secondhand smoke or airborne allergens and pollutants, can cause inflammation. Inhaling steam vapor, using a saline solution, and staying hydrated are steps to take, as well.

Does chronic sinusitis ever go away?

If the shape of the nasal passage causes chronic sinusitis, surgery can provide long-term relief. Likewise, if an allergy causes it, an allergy shot is a long-term treatment that lessens sensitivity to triggers. Reducing the long-term impact of sinusitis includes reducing inflammation through medication or lifestyle.

We're Here to Help.

Wondering if the pain and pressure you’ve been experiencing is chronic sinusitis? GoHealth Urgent Care centers are staffed seven days a week with experienced, friendly providers ready to answer your questions and help you get back to health.