Sinusitis is a common condition that sometimes follows a common cold. People who have seasonal allergies or who have structural problems, such as polyps, in the nose or sinuses are also at higher risk. With sinusitis, a virus or bacterial infection causes inflammation of the lining of the sinuses behind the cheekbones and forehead. Sinusitis often improves within two or three weeks and is generally easy to diagnose based on its symptoms.
Sinuses are cavities behind the forehead, nasal bones, cheeks, and eyes. Their main purpose is to warm, moisten, and filter the air we breathe in before it goes to the lungs. Because they're hollow, they also lighten the weight of the head. If the passage connecting the sinuses to the nasal passages becomes plugged, the sinus can no longer drain properly; they accumulate mucus, resulting in a feeling of heaviness in the face and pain from increased pressure on the nerves. The facial pain and pressure may worsen when bending over.
Swelling and pressure in the face from clogged sinuses can cause a headache. The blockage and inflammation make the person unconsciously tighten the muscles around the forehead and the top of the head -- similar to what happens during a tension headache. The pain usually worsens in the morning because fluids have built up during the night due to the recumbent position of the head. Changes of temperature or rapid changes in head orientation can also exacerbate headaches.
Halitosis, which develops when discharge that collects in the sinuses and nose drips into the back of the throat, causes bad breath that brushing and mouthwash will not alleviate. Bad breath usually occurs because the air mixes with the odor from the infection. This reason for halitosis has nothing to do with oral health and should pass once the infection is gone.
A sinus infection affects an individual's sense of smell and taste. Under normal conditions, air movement in the sinuses helps volatile molecules settle in and provides a signal to the brain that dictates a taste or scent. This lack of air movement and inflammation in the sinuses means the sense of taste is often dulled, though the five basic tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami) can still be perceived.
Sinus infections often cause infected individuals to blow their noses more often. The transparent discharge that is usually expelled may be yellow-greenish or brown due to the infection and how the mucus drains into the nasal passages. The discharge may even bypass the nose and flow down the back of the throat, a symptom called postnasal drip, that can cause an itch or tickle in the throat.
People suffering from sinusitis often report an achy pain across the top teeth. The pain is not a tooth infection, though it may feel like one. This symptom is due to pressure in the area from inflammation of the sinus membranes, which can feel like a toothache.
A person with sinusitis will sometimes experience a cough, especially in the mornings, because the mucus from the sinuses drains back down the throat during the night. This postnasal drip causes coughing and a need to clear the throat more often. Postnasal drip is often more severe during sleep. This can lead to coughing in bed, which disrupts sleep.
People with the common cold rarely experience fever. Those with serious, chronic infections like sinusitis may have an increased body temperature while the immune system attempts to fight the infection. A fever that lasts longer than a week needs medical evaluation.
Sinusitis is a severe infection that can take a toll on an individual's general well being, resulting in lowered energy levels. Chronic sinusitis can lead to both mental and physical fatigue, especially when the symptoms interfere with sleep.
Prolonged postnasal drip results in a raw throat. Mucus may irritate and inflame the throat as it drips, resulting in a painful sore throat. Although it may start as an annoying tickle, this symptom can get worse, especially if the sinus infection lasts for a few weeks or more.
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