02
April
2013

What causes a sinus infection?

Why you may be at risk for a sinus infection

Sinusitis is a relatively mild condition but can be caused by many things.  Do you know what causes sinusitis? Read here to find out.
A sinus infection, technically referred to as sinusitis, is an inflammation of the soft tissues lining the sinuses usually caused by an infection. The paranasal sinuses are air-filled spaces that, when inflamed, produce widespread facial pain and discomfort, nasal symptoms such as a runny discharge, and even systemic symptoms such as fever. Certain characteristics of the sinuses predispose them to infection, which, along with triggering mechanisms such as allergies or the flu, can make sinus infections a common and bothersome occurrence in our lives. Here, we provide a description of what causes a sinus infection, and how you can minimize your exposure.
Morphology and function of the paranasal sinuses
The paranasal sinuses are air-filled spaces within the frontal facial bones. They are located on either side of the nose, behind the nose, between the eyes, and above the eyes. Although no definitive reason for their existence has been established, it has been suggested that the sinuses function in vocal resonance, as a buffer for sensitive facial structures, as a modulator of humidity and temperature in respiration, and in immunological defense. They are lined with a soft, mucus-producing tissue that is coated with a fine layer of cilia, or microscopic hairs, which constantly clean the internal surface of the sinuses and flush out contaminants and excess mucus. Sinusitis occurs when this tissue becomes inflamed due to disease or genetic defects.
Underlying conditions that can provoke sinusitis
Sinus infections are usually triggered by colds and allergies. Colds are produced by viral infections, and allergies are systemic responses to environmental contaminants, but both tend to produce mucus build-up in the paranasal sinuses. As mucus production increases and the tissue lining the sinuses becomes swollen and inflamed, pathogens such as bacteria and fungal spores lodge within the mucus, producing infections of their own. This further irritates the sinuses, creating greater levels of inflammation and mucus build-up, thus reinforcing the sinus infection.
In addition, certain diseases may impede the proper movement of the cilia lining the soft tissue on the interior of the paranasal sinuses. This halts the proper flow of mucus and contaminants out of the sinuses, thus producing the mucus build-up characteristic of sinusitis.
Finally, certain morphological characteristics can also cause the sinuses to be blocked. A deviated septum, which is improperly oriented bone and cartilage dividing the nasal cavity into two nostrils, bone spurs, or nasal polyps can all block the flow of mucus. These are especially common in chronic cases of sinusitis, as are allergies.
Risk factors
You may be at risk of developing sinusitis if you:
  • Have allergies
  • Develop a cold
  • Smoke
  • Have trouble breathing through the nose (because of a deviated septum or other morphological blockage)
  • Experience sharp changes in pressure (such as when flying or scuba diving)
  • Suffer from a disease that impedes proper functioning of the cilia
Most sinus infections are easily resolved through self-care. However, you should consult your doctor if symptoms are severe or persist for more than two weeks, or if you suffer from repeated infections.
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Categories: Sinuses

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