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University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

Internship & Residency

University Hospital, Cincinnati

Community Affiliations

Cincinnati ENT Society and Ohio State Medical Association

Serious cold or sinusitis?

You’re coughing, fighting back a runny nose and suffering with a headache. You think it’s the common cold, but after a week, the symptoms only worsen. In actuality, you may not be suffering from a cold at all. You could be dealing with sinusitis and may not even know it.

In Cincinnati, more than 20 percent of the adult population has experienced sinusitis, an inflammation of the lining of the nose and sinuses that makes breathing difficult, along with causing a sensation of facial pressure and pain. If left untreated, it could also lead to more serious medical conditions. “If sinusitis goes unchecked, the infection can continue to progress, causing serious complications such as infections around and behind the eyes and brain, such as meningitis,” says Collin Burkart M.D.,otolaryngologist with The ENT Group.

The start of sinusitis
Sinusitis affects one or more of the four pairs of sinus cavities in the skull surrounding the nose and is caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi, making most everyone susceptible to the disease. You’re at an increased risk if you suffer from seasonal allergies, have a suppressed immune system, or get frequent upper respiratory tract infections. Symptoms such as facial pain, ear pressure, nasal drainage and blockage, loss of smell, headache, fatigue, fever, and cough lasting longer than five days could indicate sinusitis.

To prevent sinusitis from worsening, work with your doctor to determine if the condition is acute or chronic, and treat it appropriately. “You have to identify which form you have, because there are differences in the way they are treated,” Dr. Burkart explains.

  • Acute Sinusitis is a non-reoccurring sinusitis that usually develops from a virus or allergies. Here, the sinus lining swells, producing extra mucus. The swelling narrows the opening that allows sinuses to drain into your nose. Once the opening is obstructed, mucus is trapped inside. The trapped mucus sets up prime conditions for bacteria to multiply.

    To prevent this, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, over-the-counter nasal sprays, or nasal and oral decongestants that clear the infection and lower inflammation. By taking care of your allergies and immune system, acute sinusitis can, at times, be prevented.

  • Chronic Sinusitis lasts for an extended period of time, usually over 12 weeks and often reoccurs. People with nasal polyps or allergies to dust, mold, and pollen may develop chronic sinusitis. It can start from an infection, but is also caused by a deviated septum or polyps blocking the nasal passage. When sinusitis becomes chronic, your primary care physician will refer you to an ENT specialist that can perform a nasal endoscopy or CT scan of the nasal cavity to determine the severity of the disease.

    In many cases, chronic sinusitis is treated with sinus surgery or balloon sinusplasty. Sinus surgery includes no external incisions and is an outpatient procedure. Balloon sinusplasty is a newer treatment similar to angioplasty, but it is specialized for sinuses, where a balloon is inserted and dilates an opening.

Prevention measures
Want to avoid sinusitis or lessen the severity of an episode? Dr. Burkart suggests following:

  • Use a humidifier during the cold months.
  • Use an air conditioner in hot weather to stabilize your home’s temperature.
  • Add a filter to your furnace and air conditioner to remove air-borne allergens.
  • Avoid cigarette smoke.
  • Limit your intake of alcohol – it causes nasal and sinus membranes to swell.

Find a physician who can help you diagnose sinusitis by calling 877-904-4YOU or visiting

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