Persistent Sinusitis: The Uninvited Guest That Won’t Leave

Having sinusitis—also known as a sinus infection—is bad enough. But having a sinus infection that drags on and on (and on) is even worse. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing a lot of lately—persistent sinus infections that don’t resolve even after repeated courses of antibiotics.

The sinus infection symptoms we often see include drainage, cough, nasal congestion, sinus headache, sinus pressure, and ear pressure. In some cases, the illness lasts for several weeks or longer.Man with his hands pressed against his eyes and sinuses

The effects of persistent sinus infections (also known as chronic sinusitis or persistent sinusitis) can extend beyond physical symptoms. Ongoing nasal congestion, facial pain, and other symptoms can disrupt sleep, lead to fatigue, and make you feel fuzzy-headed.

Let’s look at why persistent sinus infections happen and how we treat them at Iowa ENT Center.

What is a Sinus Infection?

A sinus infection is an inflammation of the sinus cavities. These cavities are air-filled spaces within the bones around the nose. Their primary function is to produce mucus that protects and moistens the nasal passages. When these cavities become inflamed, they get stopped up—and the body has a hard time draining all of that backed up, infected, and often thickened mucus. That’s a sinus infection.

Most cases of acute sinus infections are short-term, often resolving within a couple of weeks. Persistent sinus infections occur when the condition either keeps returning (recurring sinus infections) or doesn’t resolve despite treatment, lasting for several weeks or longer. This extended form of sinus infection represents a potentially more severe and enduring condition, requiring specialized attention.

What Causes Persistent Sinus Infections?

Several different conditions can lead to persistent sinus infections, including:

  • Nasal polyps: These tissue growths can block the nasal passages or sinuses.
  • Deviated nasal septum: A crooked septum may hinder sinus drainage, leading to chronic infections.
  • Respiratory tract infections: Infections, particularly in the respiratory tract, can inflame and thicken the sinus membranes, blocking mucus drainage.
  • Allergies: Allergic reactions can cause sinus blockages, especially in cases of allergic rhinitis.
  • Environmental irritants: Pollution, smoke, and dust can worsen sinusitis symptoms.
  • Fungal infections: In some cases, a fungal infection can be at the root of persistent sinus problems.

Testing and Treatment of Persistent Sinus Infections

When we see a patient with persistent sinus infections, our physicians work hard to determine the root cause and create a treatment plan. In most cases, a CT scan is necessary. This helps us see what may be blocking the sinuses (and eventually causing the infections).

In addition to a CT scan, we may also sample the mucus in the nose. Then we analyze the mucus to see if bacteria are present—and if so, which kind. This helps us to direct more targeted antibiotic therapy.

In some cases, surgery is eventually needed. This can be the case if, for instance, a patient has nasal polyps that prevent the sinuses from draining.

How to Prevent Sinus Infections

It isn’t possible to prevent all sinus infections. But there are things that can help to reduce your chances, including:

  • Ensuring good indoor air quality (including not smoking or being around someone who smokes)
  • Irrigating your sinuses with a saline solution
  • Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly
  • Getting recommended vaccines, such as the flu and pneumococcal vaccines
  • Avoiding close contact with people who have colds or other upper respiratory infections
  • Using a humidifier to moisten the air at home

Our Experts Are Here to Help

If you’re battling persistent or recurring sinus infections, the physicians at Iowa ENT Center can help. We never require a referral, and we accept most insurance plans. Call us at 515-223-4368 to schedule an appointment, or request an appointment online.