Sunday, February 25, 2001
Steamboat Springs Thirty-seven million Americans are affected by sinus infections, a more prevalent affliction than hypertension or arthritis. If you experience congestion or sniffling at times, you may find it difficult to distinguish between the symptoms of chronic sinusitis, an acute bacterial infection and the common cold. The symptoms of sinusitis include facial pressure, headache, congestion, post-nasal drip, thick yellow or green nasal discharge and bad breath that may persist for more than 12 weeks. An acute bacterial infection may require a visit to your physician, who will prescribe an antibiotic. Most acute infections will resolve with appropriate treatment in 10 to 14 days. Cold symptoms rarely last more than 10 days and improve with humidification of your living spaces and the use of moisturizing saline nose sprays.
Patients who suffer from chronic sinusitis often complain of nasal congestion or blockage, discolored postnasal drainage, diminished sense of smell and fatigue. Intensive antibiotic therapy and topical nasal steroid sprays are usually recommended. Some patients with chronic sinusitis have underlying allergies, which will require further evaluation and management. A special X-ray called a CAT scan can identify abnormal nasal and sinus anatomy contributing to recurrent or chronic infections.
When antibiotics and other medical treatments fail to alleviate chronic sinusitis or multiple episodes of acute sinusitis, an
otolaryngologist an ear, nose and throat specialist will usually advocate surgery. In the past, surgeries were conducted through incisions on the face. Now, most sinus surgeries are performed using thin, lighted rods called sinus scopes that are directed through the nose into the sinus regions. Endoscopic sinus surgery removes thickened and diseased tissue and polyps and improves the flow of secretions from the sinuses to the nose by opening any blocked passages. The procedure usually lasts one to two hours with the patient under local or general anesthesia. The patient generally returns home in a few hours and resumes full activity in four to seven days. "It has only been a few weeks since surgery and I am already very pleased with the results," said former sinusitis sufferer Gloria Smith. "I can breathe again, smell things I had forgotten about and finally feel that I can live my everyday life and travel without the fear of recurring sinus infections and chronic cough. I should have had sinus surgery years ago," Smith said.
The health impact of chronic sinusitis on pain and social function is more than that of heart failure or back pain. Research has shown that appropriate treatment with medication and surgery has a remarkable impact on the quality of life of sinus sufferers. Bonnie Printy, who had severe sinus symptoms for more than 30 years, underwent sinus surgery more than a year ago. "I can breathe through my nose now and I'm not stuffed up or sniffling" Printy said. "This last year has been the best year of my life."
For more information, log on to www.entnet.org or check out the Sinus Source Book, written by Deborah Rosin, M.D.
Dr. Maryann Wall is an otolaryngologist and facial plastic surgeon in Steamboat Springs.