Chronic vs. Acute Sinusitis: What’s the Difference and How are They Best Treated?

Sinuses are tiny air-filled cavities found in the skull. Their purpose is to produce mucus, which keeps the nasal passage free of allergens and pollutants. On the other hand, sinusitis is the swelling of the tissue that lines these cavities. Sometimes, this swelling blocks the sinuses thus, trapping in air and mucus, which can lead to pain and pressure. If left untreated, it could lead to a bacterial infection. Did you know there is a difference in chronic vs. acute sinusitis?

Types of sinusitis

There are two main types namely acute and chronic sinusitis.

Acute Sinusitis

This is an infection that usually goes away on its own without having to be treated. Its symptoms can be eased through several treatments, though patients only need antibiotic medications at times. It doesn’t have many complications, but it could lead to chronic sinusitis. The infection could spread to surrounding structures also.

With acute sinusitis, the infection takes over the body drastically and goes away the same way. Most acute sinusitis cases go away within a week, although in some cases, it could last up to 30 days. If the sinusitis infection lasts 4-30 days, it is considered acute. In case it persists for 4-12 weeks, it becomes subacute.

A slight bout of acute sinusitis is not a big deal as some people will experience it with a cold. It is, however, uncommon to have severe acute sinusitis and most people only suffer such bouts once or twice in their lives. Some people experience repeated acute sinusitis bouts.

How an Acute Sinusitis is Contracted

In most cases, people develop acute sinusitis after flu or cold infections. These infections come from viruses that spread to the sinus. The flu stays before going away, which leads to a viral sinus infection. In some cases, bacteria add to the infection. This leads to a bacterial sinus infection, which is worse and lasts longer.

Sometimes, infections travel to the maxillary sinus from infected teeth.This can result from a dental infection.

Additional Risks Factors that Cause a Sinus Infection

Factors that make to someone to be more inclined to a sinus infection include the following:

  • Allergic rhinitis- this kind of allergy leads to an inflammation of the inner nose tissue, leading to blocked sinus drainage pathways. This exposes the sinuses to an infection.
  • Asthma
  • Weak immunity
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Pregnancy
  • Rare nose tumors
  • Past nose or cheek injuries
  • Some medical procedures like the use of a nasogastric tube
  • Smoking

Symptoms of Acute Sinusitis

The common symptoms include:

Treatment

Antibiotics are usually not needed since most of these infections are as a result of viruses. Just like with flu, the body fights off the infection in a few weeks. However, antibiotics might be useful. A doctor might prescribe them if your infection comes with:

  • Severe symptoms and the fact that you are feeling unwell
  • Another infection like cystic fibrosis or a weak immune system
  • Symptoms that seem to be getting worse after a week

Some treatments are prescribed to help in relieving the symptoms. They include:

  • Pain medication like paracetamol, which helps in bringing down the fever and easing the feelings of discomfort
  • Decongestants drops or sprays are sometimes recommended. These help in opening a blocked nose temporarily. However, they should not be used for more than 5 days at one time as they may lead to more congestion in the nose.
  • Drinking a lot of fluids
  • The use of warm face packs over the sinuses and saline drops

Chronic Sinusitis

This kind of infection usually persists for 12 weeks and more despite your efforts to treat it. It usually messes up with drainage thus, causing mucus to build up. This might lead to difficulty in breathing through your nose. You will experience an inflammation around the face and eyes, leading to pain and tenderness.

Chronic sinusitis can be as a result of an infection, nasal polyps, or a deviated nasal septum. This condition is usually common with young and middle-aged people although it can also affect children.

Symptoms

There are different symptoms of chronic sinusitis apart from a blocked nose. They include:

  • Nasal congestion or obstruction that makes it hard to breathe through the nose
  • Thick and discolored discharge from the nose or one that drains down the throat
  • Pain, inflammation, and tenderness around the eyes, forehead, nose, and cheeks
  • Lowered senses of smell and taste
  • Coughs in children, which gets worse at night
  • A sore throat
  • Bad breath
  • Lethargy

As seen above, acute and chronic sinusitis come with the same symptoms. The only difference is that the former is just a temporary infection that comes with a cold. With the latter, the signs last longer and leave the patient feeling lethargic. There is no fever present with chronic sinusitis, though you might experience it with the acute case.

Before developing a chronic case of sinusitis, a patient might have several cases of the acute infection that usually goes for less than a month. A physician might refer the patient to an allergist or ENT specialist for treatment.

Treatment

Patients are advised to treat all underlying problems that might trigger the condition, such as taking care of asthma, allergic rhinitis, fungal, and dental infections. Also, avoid anything that makes the symptoms worse like smoking, scuba diving, and flying.

Medical Treatments

There are several medical treatment options like:

Steroids: these are usually applied to the nasal lining via sprays or drops. These help with the swelling and are to be taken on a long-term basis, which is usually three months. In case the symptoms are severe, steroids might be given orally though these might result in side-effects.

Antibiotics: taking them for 3-4 weeks can be effective. However, it is wise to have them after a full ENT assessment.

In case the patient has a fungal sinus infection, which is usually rare, antifungal medications are prescribed.

If you are in New York and looking for an ENT center, contact the Hudson Valley Sinus Center. These specialists offer services for sinus and nasal disorders.

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