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Inflammation of the paranasal sinuses (sinusitis) – what is it?


The eyes are watery, the nose is closed, the head aches – inflammation of the sinuses often feels like a bad cold.

Paranasal sinusitis is an inflammation of the mucous membranes in the paranasal sinuses. The sinuses are cavities in the facial bones next to, behind and above the nose. All paranasal sinuses are connected to the nasal cavities and lined with mucous membrane.

Sinusitis is one of the most common diseases of the upper respiratory tract and can be acute or chronic.

  • Acute sinusitis has a fast progression and usually lasts no more than 12 weeks . It responds well to treatment, heals without consequences and often is the result of a viral infection, for example, a cold.
  • Chronic paranasal sinusitis develops more slowly and is persistent. Those affected often have an anatomical cause, such as a crooked nasal septum or polyps in the nose, which prevent the secretion being able to flow into the nose and throat.

Causes of sinusitis

With a cold, bacteria and viruses enter the sinuses. The mucous membrane of the connecting passageways swells up. The secretions created in the sinuses can no longer drain.
The secretion collects in the sinuses; ventilation of the cavities is not possible.

Symptoms of sinusitis

Initially, the symptoms of paranasal sinusitis are the same as those typical of a cold: the nose is running/blocked, possibly causing a headache.

One indication of acute sinusitis could be the appearance of additional symptoms. Typical of paranasal sinusitis is a feeling of pressure or pain in the area of the forehead, cheeks and eyes. This feeling of pressure increases when bending forward or pushing.

In addition, fever, tiredness or swelling of the face may occur.

In chronic sinusitis, the symptoms are less severe and usually painless. However, it leads to difficulty breathing through the nose and purulent discharge. The sense of smell and taste are impaired.

Diagnosis of sinusitis

Since the symptoms of acute sinusitis are clear, a diagnosis often is possible after simply tapping the affected areas on the face.

Diagnosis may be supported by paranasal sinus endoscopy, nasal discharge examination, ultrasound or computed tomography. Imaging techniques are used to uniquely identify chronic sinusitis.


In acute sinusitis, therapy with vapour inhalation and nasal sprays is beneficial. Expectorants also are used.

In chronic sinusitis, nasal sprays with cortisone may be used. The causes of chronic sinusitis also may be resolved surgically (nasal polyps).