A running nose, watery eyes and sneezing are signs that you’re coming down with a cold, which is basically a viral infection of your nose and throat. But if you frequently display these symptoms over a period of time, you may not just be facing a few days off work, but a sinus infection.
To differentiate between the common cold and a sinus infection, it’s best to first know your sinuses – the connected system of hollow cavities within your skull that helps make the skull lighter.
Exploring your sinuses
The sinus cavities are lined by mucous membrane that produces mucous to add moisture to the nasal passages. The mucous layer provides protection from unwanted particles like dirt, pollutants and infectious organisms. The cilia (which look like hair) that line the mucous membrane help to drain mucous from the sinuses into the nose.
A sinus infection occurs when the lining of the cavities gets inflamed and swell from an infection, like a cold. This swelling can block the normal drainage of fluid from the sinuses into the nose and throat. A buildup of fluid may result in bacteria or fungi growing in it, and the condition eventually grows worse with time and becomes chronic.
Pressure and/or pain around the nose, eyes or forehead are the main symptoms of a sinus infection. Other common symptoms or complaints include:
- Coloured nasal discharge
- Blocked nose
- Recurrent fever
- Post nasal discharge
- Blocked ears
- Reduced sense of smell
- Recurrent sinus infection
Despite sufficient medical treatment and medication, some cases of infection do not get better. Surgery is often prescribed in these cases to open the pathways of the sinuses and clear blockages. Sinus surgery is a brief procedure with few complications and is performed under general anaesthesia.
The goal of surgery is to carefully remove structures blocking the drainage pathway. These include the thin pieces of bone and mucous membrane that block the drainage pathways of the sinuses. Surgery is also performed to remove infected tissues, nasal polyps and tumours.
There are various conditions that may require sinus surgery. The most common are:
- Recurrent Acute Sinusitis: four or more full episodes of acute sinusitis (a short-term infection or inflammation of the membranes that line your sinuses) that occur within one year.
- Nasal Polyps: soft, painless, noncancerous growths on the lining of your nasal passages or sinuses that result from chronic inflammation due to asthma, recurring infection, allergies, drug sensitivity or certain immune disorders.
- Chronic Sinusitis: chronic sinusitis is a common condition where the cavities around the sinuses become inflamed and swollen for at least 12 weeks despite treatment.
- Allergic Rhinosinusitis: a diagnosis related to a group of symptoms affecting the nose. These symptoms occur when you breathe in something you are allergic to, such as dust or pollen, or when you eat a food you are allergic to.
A non-invasive procedure
The primary approach to treating sinus conditions is Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery (FESS). This procedure is usually performed outpatient under general anaesthesia and uses a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope. Equipped with telescopes and HD cameras, it provides excellent operative views that allow for the removal of a small amount of bone, mucosa and diseased tissue to improve ventilation and drainage.
A light packing with an absorbable pack is placed in the nasal cavity at the end of surgery to help with bleeding. FESS leaves no external scars, little swelling and only mild discomfort.
Patients usually spend a night at the hospital after surgery. Any pain is well-controlled with analgesia and a nasal irrigation, where the nasal cavity is washed to flush out mucous and debris, is performed a day after.
For the first week following surgery you should avoid:
- Sneezing and coughing with your mouth open
- Blowing your nose
- Hot food and drinks
Call your doctor if…
As with any other surgical procedure, sinus surgery has associated risks. Although the chances of a complication occurring post-surgery are minimal, you should call your doctor if these signs arise:
- Excessive bleeding
- Pain, fever or headache
- Decreased or double vision
- Clear watery discharge from the nose