Triangle residents are all too familiar with Raleigh’s beltline traffic. When everything runs smoothly, cars zip easily to their destinations. Now imagine that a lane is closed. Traffic slows, transforming your drive into a frustrating delay.

Something similar happens with a chronic sinus infection. The sinuses are hollow spaces located around the nose, under the eyes and the lower forehead. They are connected to the nose by small, narrow tubes. When you’re healthy, air easily flows in and out and mucus drains easily. When your sinuses are irritated or swollen, these passageways swell, preventing drainage. This causes a “traffic jam” in your nose, which causes irritation or infection. The result is sinusitis, which may also be referred to as rhinosinusitis.  If the infection lasts around four weeks, it’s acute sinusitis.  If sinus problems fail to improve after treatment, or if they’ve continued for 12 weeks, you could have chronic sinusitis.

Symptoms include a runny nose, congestion and facial pain. While only an ENT can accurately pinpoint the source of your constant sinus problems, four common causes are:
  • Allergic reactions

  • A deviated or perforated septum

  • Nasal polyps

  • Enlarged turbinates

Allergic Reactions

The most obvious cause of sinus problems is a reaction to common allergens such as pollen, mold, pet dander and ragweed. Your ENT is in a unique position to help you by determining what is at the heart of your allergies. This involves allergy skin testing (see more info about this here!), prescription medication or even immunotherapy. Balloon sinuplasty is another effective tool to treat sinus problems.

A Deviated or Torn Septum

Your nostrils are split into two areas by the nasal septum, a piece of cartilage and bone. When it’s crooked, misshapen, or torn, it disrupts airflow and causes a multitude of problems, including congestion, headache, facial pain and infections. Fortunately, this problem can be fixed through a procedure called a septoplasty, which repairs the septum. If you suspect you have this problem, speak with your local ENT, who will perform a physical exam. 

Nasal Polyps

Polyps are small tissue growths that block the nasal passages
. While they are rarely cancerous, they can cause loss taste, difficulty breathing, sleep apnea and facial pain. If you’ve been diagnosed with them, your ENT can tailor a treatment plan for you. While medications and steroid sprays may help, large polyps may have to be surgically removed. 

Enlarged Turbinates

Chances are, you’ve never heard of turbinates, but these small structures can cause huge problems.
Turbinates are thin layers of bone covered with mucus. They attach to tissue inside your nose. Their purpose is to filter allergens out of the air and warm the oxygen you breathe. An allergy flare up enlarges them, creating a small air pocket that blocks sinuses so they can’t drain. This is called turbinate hypertrophy (learn more about this here!). Medications can help, but sometimes surgery may be necessary.

If you have chronic sinus problems, you’re not alone. Roughly 12 percent of all Americans have been diagnosed with some type of sinusitis, which translates to 29.4 million people. Those who suffer find they are no longer to enjoy some of their favorite outdoor activities. Don’t give up the things you love! Contact your local ENT for help.

American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. “Sinusitis.” Online. 

American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. “Deviated Septum.” Online. 

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. “Allergy Shots (Immunotherapy).” Online.

Centers for Disease Control. “Chronic Sinusitis.” Online.