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What’s the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Sinusitis?

man with sinusitis If you’re feeling congested and miserable, sinusitis may be to blame. This inflammation of the lining of the nasal passages causes mucus to back up in your nose and sinuses. It can lead to uncomfortable symptoms and in some cases, more serious health issues. Sinusitis can be either acute or chronic, and knowing which type you have can help ensure that you get the correct treatment.

In this blog, the board-certified ear, nose, and throat doctors at New York ENT explain the difference between acute and chronic sinusitis and what it means for you.

What is acute sinusitis?

Acute sinusitis lasts for up to eight weeks, but it sometimes gets better within a week to 10 days. You might feel symptoms such as congestion and facial pressure and pain, and you may also have thick, discolored mucus. You may have a headache, a reduced sense of smell and taste, and also feel fatigued.

This type of sinusitis is often caused by the common cold (a viral infection), which can sometimes be treated at home by taking over-the-counter sinus medication. You can also try using home remedies such as taking a hot, steamy shower to help open up your nasal passages.

As mucus builds up and provides a breeding ground for bacteria, a bacterial infection can also develop. If that’s the case, your sinusitis may need to be treated by antibiotics.

You may also need to see a doctor if your symptoms linger or are showing no signs of improvement despite your attempts to treat them.

What is chronic sinusitis?

Chronic sinusitis is sinusitis that lasts for at least 12 weeks and can even persist for years. It can cause many of the same symptoms as those associated with acute sinusitis, but it may be harder to treat because of a greater level of inflammation.

In addition, an underlying structural issue may be contributing to your chronic sinusitis. For example, a deviated septum (a crooked or off-center wall of bone and cartilage separating your nostrils) can prevent mucus from draining normally. The same is true of nasal polyps – non-cancerous grape-like growths in the lining of your nose or sinuses.

Chronic sinusitis can also be related to allergies such as hay fever and other medical conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or diseases related to your immune system. Environmental pollutants such as cigarette smoke can also increase your risk of developing chronic sinusitis.

How is sinusitis diagnosed and treated?

Your doctor will talk with you about your symptoms and medical history and conduct an examination. A thin, flexible lighted tube called an endoscope may also be used to allow your doctor to see the inside of your sinuses.

In some cases, imaging studies such as an MRI or CT scan may also be used to show areas in greater detail than an endoscope can provide. If your doctor suspects that allergies are contributing to your sinuses, an allergy test may be conducted.

Medications such as steroids can be used to help reduce inflammation, but, depending on the underlying cause of your sinusitis, additional treatment may be needed.

These can include the following:

  • Antihistamines or allergy shots to treat allergies
  • Minimally invasive procedures to correct a structural abnormality
  • Surgery to correct a structural abnormality

If you’re experiencing congestion and other symptoms of acute or chronic sinusitis, make an appointment today with New York ENT. We’ll diagnose the cause of your symptoms and provide effective treatment that will help you breathe easier and relieve your other symptoms as well.

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