Around 2008, about 20 million visits to the doctor in the United States were due to sinusitis; in Europe it is estimated that 9 per cent of the population suffer from this condition. Despite this being a seemingly common condition, most people do not understand what sinusitis is, thus resulting to incorrect self-medication leading to serious health implications.
Sinusitis is the inflammation of any of the pairs of air spaces of the skull which is found around the nose. The inflammation causes swelling, leading to obstruction that can trap air and mucus. The air and mucus exert pressure on the mucus membrane and bone, causing pain on the affected area. Over time the mucus thickens and dries out, making it harder to expel. In addition, the mucus becomes a fertile breeding ground for bacteria.
While some patients may have bacterial infection and can benefit from antibiotics, not all patients with sinusitis require antibiotic therapy. A common cold usually accompanies it and a patient does not have to take any medicine. In such case, supportive treatment like decongestants is recommended because it will resolve in about two weeks. Unfortunately though, it is difficult to distinguish whether a patient already has bacterial infection. Thick, yellowish nasal discharges may be a sign, but the matter is best brought to a doctor for better evaluation.
Indiscriminate intake of antibiotics, as mentioned above, can contribute to the rise of bacterial strains with increased antibiotic resistance. This is a major public health concern, as these strains are deadly and very difficult to treat. On the other end of the spectrum, chronic, untreated sinusitis can harbour a large amount of bacteria causing osteomyelitis, a condition that eats away the bone in the face. This is rare, but the possibility arises if the condition is ignored.
Overall, sinusitis is benign, treatable, and resolves in itself, but it becomes dangerous if we either allow it to persist, or we play doctors. Know where you stand and seek treatment when you know you need it.