This article describes the uncomfortable condition of sinusitis, including some valuable advice on relieving the symptoms of sinusitis.

 What is Sinusitis?

Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinus cavities – the air filled hollows of the face that lie around the nose and eyes. It can be very painful and tiring.

Normally these air cavities work to moisten and purify the air you breathe before it reaches the lungs. The nasal hairs (called cilia) work to filter out bacteria and other toxins from entering the sinuses. However if the nasal passages become swollen, bacteria can become trapped in the sinus causing inflammation and infection.

When the sinuses become inflamed, the normal mucous flow is obstructed, and the sinuses fill with fluid, which in turn causes pressure on the face and makes it difficult to breathe through the nose.

Several things can cause sinusitis, including:

  • Bacterial or viral infection
  • Fungal infections
  • Allergies – such as hayfever
  • Auto immune disorders – such as cystic fibrosis
  • Changes in air pressure – from swimming or air travel
  • Nasal polyps – an overgrowth of tissue in the nasal passages
  • Deviated nasal septum – the septum is the cartilage between the two nostrils. This can be damaged when the nose becomes broken

The most common cause of sinusitis is a bacterial infection from a cold. Natural health experts believe that increasing levels of air pollution is also causing many cases of sinusitis.

Signs and symptoms of sinusitis

  • Pressure in the face around the nose or behind the eyes
  • Throbbing sensation
  • Pain in the face which worsens when coughing or leaning forward
  • Tenderness around the eyes, cheeks, nose and forehead
  • Headache – in the forehead or around the eyes
  • Difficulty breathing through the nose
  • Constant dripping of nasal fluids down the back of the throat
  • Coughing spasms – coughing up yellow or green mucous
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Sore throat
  • Bad breath
  • Aching teeth

Treatment for sinusitis

  • If sinusitis is mild and linked to a cold, then you can treat it at home with steam inhalations, drinking lots of fluids and taking mild painkillers and using nasal decongestants (from your chemist). If sinusitis persists for more than a couple of days, see a doctor
  • See a doctor quickly if your child develops a fever, or swelling develops around the nose, face and eyes. Also see a doctor quickly if your child develops a stiff neck or becomes confused
  • Treatment is generally by way of antibiotics, though steroid medication to ease swelling may also be suggested
  • More in-depth treatment may be required if the condition keeps recurring or if your child has allergies, a deviated septum, nasal polyps or other medical conditions
  • Chronic sinusitis may require surgery to widen / improve the sinus drainage system
  • Some people recommend nasal decongestant or saline (salt) sprays – others say these are potentially more damaging in the long term and shouldn’t be used for more than three days at a time

Risks & complications of sinusitis

  • Chronic sinusitis – if not treated successfully, sinusitis can become an ongoing condition. This causes the sinus cavities to become permanently thickened
  • Asthma – sinusitis can trigger an asthma attack
  • Visual problems – if the infection spreads to the eye socket this can be serious and can even lead to blindness
  • An infection of the frontal bone of the face – bone infections (called osteomyelitis) are serious
  • A blood clot can develop in the sinus area and cause serious problems
  • Meningitis – the infection can spread to the brain and, in a worst case scenario, cause death

Remedies for sinusitis?

  • Apply warm compresses to the face – run a face cloth under a hot tap and apply to the face or use a wheatpack
  • Gently massage the face around the nose to help bring relief and stimulate blood flow
  • Get your child to drink plenty of fluids
  • Use steam inhalations. You can either get your child to breathe in steam during a hot shower or fill a bowl with boiling water and drape a towel over your child’s head while they breathe in the steamy air by leaning over the bowl. (You can add essential oils or products like Vicks Vapour-Rub to the water to help open nasal passages.) Use steam inhalations two or three times a day.
  • Use a humidifier in your home to help keep the air moist – this helps stops sinuses from drying out
  • Adults or teens should cut back on alcohol
  • Sinuses can be irritated by smoking and air pollution, so try and avoid these irritants
  • Natural remedies include garlic (which makes mucous less sticky); hot spices in food (which help clear nasal passages); horseradish (which works like a natural decongestant); astragalus (to boost immune function); Echinacea (to ease symptoms)
  • There are a number of homeopathic remedies than can help – see a qualified homeopath
  • Take vitamin C and zinc – both help fight infection and improve immune function
  • Some people have enjoyed good results by using acupuncture for sinusitis.
  • Eliminating milk products from the diet which can cause a dramatic improvement for some people
  • If your child is given antibiotics – make sure you introduce acidophilus yoghurt to the diet to keep their digestive track healthy
This is an essential family health reference, covering over 100 common, important, potentially serious and often worrying symptoms and emergencies, such as headaches, chest pain, dizziness, fever, bleeding, tiredness or stress. This classic bestseller has now been completely revised and updated to include the latest information on how to care for your sick child.

Helpful articles

As sinusitis often appears in a child during or after a cold or the flu, you may find our articles on Colds, Flu or Ear Infections helpful.

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Kimberley Paterson is a writer and public relations expert living in Whangaparaoa. She had an initial career as a registered nurse and has spent the last 20 years writing about health and well-being.

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Helen Williamson

Good article. Just thought I’d mention one incorrect part- Cystic Fibrosis is not an autoimmune disorder. It is a genetic condition that causes the mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs to be thick and difficult to move, resulting in persistent infections and other problems.

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