Uh-oh. You're sneezing, coughing, and you have a bright red nose. You figure it's
just another cold, but this one sticks around way too long. Is it really a cold?
Maybe not. It could be a problem with your sinuses.
What Are Sinuses?
The sinuses (say: SY-nih-siz) are air-filled spaces found in the
bones of the head and face.
There are four pairs of sinuses, or eight in all. They're on either side of the nose
in your cheeks, behind and between the eyes, in the forehead, and at the back of the
Like the inside of the nose, the sinuses are lined with a moist, thin layer of
tissue called a mucous
membrane (say: MYOO-kus MEM-brayne). These help moisten the air you breathe
it in. They also makes mucus,
that sticky stuff in your nose you might call snot.
The mucus traps dust and germs that are in the air. On the surface of the cells of
the mucous membrane are microscopic hairs called cilia (say: SIL-ee-uh).
The cilia beat back and forth in waves to clear mucus from the sinuses through
a narrow opening in the nose and then move the mucus toward the back of the nose to
be swallowed. Gross, huh? If you have a cold or allergies, the membrane gets irritated
and swollen and makes even more mucus.
When Good Sinuses Go Bad
What about that cold that won't go away? A cold virus can:
damage the delicate cilia so that mucus is not swept away
make the mucous lining of the nose swollen, which narrows and blocks the small
opening from the sinuses into the nose
lead to more mucus, which is often thicker and stickier, making it harder to flow
out of the sinuses
When the tiny openings that drain the sinuses get blocked, mucus gets trapped in
them. This makes a good home for bacteria, viruses, or fungi to grow.
If a cold lasts for more than 10 to 14 days (sometimes you may have a low-grade
fever), you may have sinusitis
(say: syne-yuh-SY-tis). This means an infection of the sinuses. Sinusitis is a pretty
common infection; in fact, millions of people in the United States have
sinusitis each year.
Sinusitis Can Last A While
Doctors call sinusitis
when a cold lasts more than 10 to 14 days. It's called
sinusitis when a person has symptoms for more than 3 months.
Less often, a kid could have headache or pain behind the eyes, forehead, and cheeks.
What Will the Doctor Do?
If you might have a sinus infection, your doctor will probably check your ears
and throat and take a look in your nose. The doctor may also check your sinuses by
tapping or pressing on your forehead and cheeks.
If you have a sinus infection, the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.
If bacteria are causing the problem, an antibiotic will help by killing the bacteria.
If it's a virus, antibiotic medicine won't work.
In the case of a bacterial infection, the antibiotic should help you feel better
in a few days. A decongestant or nasal spray might also be prescribed to help you
feel better. If the sinus infection is chronic, the doctor may have you take medicine
for a couple of weeks, just to be sure all the bacteria are knocked out.
Sometimes, if a sinus infection is not getting better, comes back even after you
take all your medicine, or if the doctor is thinking about doing surgery, he or she
might send you to have a CT
scan of the sinuses. The CT scan is a special X-ray that takes a picture of your
insides. It doesn't hurt, and it makes it much easier for the doctor to see what's
going on. Your doctor can clearly see what the sinuses look like and then decide what
kind of treatment will help you get better faster.
The good news about sinusitis is that it's not
. So if you feel well enough, you can go to school or go outside and play.
In no time, you'll be over your infection — and you'll be saying so long to sinusitis!