Everyone knows where the sinuses are. Whenever you get a cold, your sinuses fill up, and you can feel the pressure and ache in your face, in your forehead. It’s just one of the miseries of the common cold. But what are sinuses? Why are they there?
Sinuses are holes in the skull and the facial bones. They’re lined with mucous membranes, similar in some ways to the lining of your mouth. The membranes produce mucus, which moistens the linings of the sinuses, the nose, and the nasal pharynx. The cavities in the skull, the sinuses, and the nasal cavity, also lighten your head so that you can lift it and keep it balanced without conscious effort.
The frontal sinuses are set in the frontal bone, which forms the forehead.
The maxillary sinuses are in each cheekbone.
There are three small pairs of ethmoid sinuses near the bridge of the nose.
The sphenoid sinuses are set farther back behind the eyes.
The sinuses have several functions
The mucus that is produced is pushed into the nasal cavity by tiny hairs called cilia, where it lubricates the nose.
Your voice resonates within the air spaces of the sinuses, giving a richer quality to the sound. Everyone knows what someone sounds like when the sinuses are clogged up. Songs wouldn’t be as sweet without sinuses.
The mucus that enters the nose also traps bacteria and viruses, serving as the first line of defense against infection.
Nasal congestion occurs when irritants in the air are breathed into the sinuses. Irritation of the mucous membranes can cause increased mucus production until it fills the sinuses and produces pressure and, sometimes, pain.
Many irritants are found in the air that we breathe. Allergens, such as pollen and animal mites, dust, chemical fumes, and tobacco smoke all inflame the sinuses. Infections can also cause inflammation. This inflammation will persist as long as the irritant is present and sometimes will persist long after the original insult is gone, causing the development of chronic sinusitis and/or chronic nasal congestion.
The most typical cause for acute nasal congestion is an infection, usually viral, such as the common cold. The congestion generally lasts a week to ten days and then resolves. If the stuffiness and excess mucus production persist longer than that, it has become chronic nasal congestion.
Causes of chronic nasal congestion
Infection is the commonest cause.
Allergies – Allergies are your immune system’s response to a foreign substance. Airborne particles like pollen and pet dander are absorbed through the nose and mouth. The body recognizes these particles as outsiders and reacts.
Environmental irritants – Dust, mold, and animal dander, along with the pollens, cause chronic inflammation.
Chemical exposures – Tobacco smoke, even secondhand, inflames sinuses. Crop spraying in agricultural areas affects many people. Industrial smoke and chemical vapors also irritate the sinuses.
Nasal polyps – Benign tumors can arise in the nasal pharynx and cause nasal congestion.
A deviated septum can block one or even both sets of maxillary sinuses.
Chronic infective sinusitis will also cause chronic nasal congestion.
The symptoms of long-term nasal congestion can vary. Sometimes your nose may be stuffy. Other times it’s runny. You may have pressure or even pain in one or more of your sinuses. The drainage of mucus down the back of your throat may result in a sore throat. You should not experience any fever. And the inside of your nose will be sore, and the tissues will be swollen.
Treatment for chronic nasal congestion
1. Things to do at home
A humidifier moistens the air that you breathe. The added moisture soothes the irritated membranes and helps to reduce the amount of mucus. Sometimes the added moisture can cause problems for people with asthma. If you experience increased wheezing, discontinue the humidifier.
Sleep on several pillows so that your head is propped up. This will allow gravity to work to help drain those sinuses.
Saline nasal sprays are helpful and safe. Like the humidifier, the saltwater moistens the mucus membranes and reduces inflammation, resulting in decreased mucus.
Long, hot showers have the same effect and make you feel better.
Drink lots of fluids. Hydration from the inside helps, too.
2. When to see the doctor
When the cold just doesn’t go away and hangs on for a lot more than ten days, you’re probably dealing with an infection. You may need antibiotics, especially if the mucus turns green.
When the spring allergy season has come and gone, and your nose is just as red and swollen and stuffed up as it was, you need to see an allergy doctor.
When your exposure to chemicals or dust was over a week ago, and the congestion hasn’t let up, there may be something else going on.
3. Medications that your doctor may prescribe or recommend
Oral antihistamines for allergies
Possibly over-the-counter decongestants
Wherever you are, you are subject to allergies (except possibly Antarctica). The Hudson Valley is noted for allergies, from the early spring through October. The trees and grass pollens, followed by ragweed and other weed pollens, cause misery throughout the area. If you need help with chronic nasal congestion, if you’d like to be able to sleep well at night, this allergy doctor in Hudson Valley will be able to bring you relief. Call the office today.