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There are four pairs of cavities in our heads that are called the sinuses. Each pair has an opening into the nose to allow air in and out, and to drain the mucus that is produced in the linings of the sinuses to keep them clean. Sinusitis occurs when these openings become blocked by excess mucus, as a result of infections such as the common cold or allergies like hay fever.

Symptoms vary from a mild feeling of congestion to severe pain. Sinusitis can also block the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the back of the nose, causing temporary loss of hearing and sometimes earache.



What causes sinusitis?


Sinus infections
Sinusitis often follows a viral infection such as the common cold. The cold virus causes the nasal linings to swell, and mucus production to increase, preventing effective drainage of the nose. Bacteria can happily breed in this mucus, sometimes leading to a severe infection with a thick yellow or green discharge.

Allergic reactions
Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is most common in springtime when large amounts of allergy-producing pollens are in the air, but can happen at any time in response to a variety of allergens, including house dust and animal hair or fur. These allergens also cause the nasal linings to swell and become blocked by excess mucus. 


What is the treatment?

Treating a sinus infection usually involves several different approaches:


  • Over-the-counter pain-relievers such as paracetamol, low-dose ibuprofen or a combination of Paracetamol 500mg + Ibuprofen 150mg to relieve pain
  • Over-the-counter nasal sprays or saline douches may help to relieve congestion, but they should be used for no more than five days as prolonged use can result in ‘rebound congestion’
  • Oral decongestants  can relieve pain and also help reduce nasal inflammation
  • Drinking lots of water, hot lemon drinks and herbal tea can help drain the sinuses
  • Steam inhalations 2-3 times a day (breathing in steam from hot water infused with eucalyptus or tea tree oil) may also be helpful
  • If the symptoms last more than a few days, see your doctor – you may need antibiotics for an infection, inhaled or oral steroids or antihistamines if the underlying cause is an allergic reaction
  • Some people with chronic sinusitis may require surgery


More information

Allergy NZ

EMedicine Health

- search on sinus infection or hayfever



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