Pragmatic Approach to Treating Inflamed Nasal Passages and Sinuses

Alberta countryside. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Alberta countryside. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Sinusitis refers to inflammation of a sinus, while rhinitis is inflammation of the nasal passage. Anatomical closeness of the sinus cavities and the nasal passages lead to frequent simultaneous involvement of both structures. When both structures are involved the diagnosis is rhinosinusitis. The inflammation may be due to a virus or bacteria. The disease can be acute or chronic.

Rhinosinusitis is a frequently occurring disease. It has a big impact on the quality of life and health care spending. This also affects absenteeism and productivity. It is estimated that approximately six billion dollars is spent on 25 million individuals in the United States annually on therapy for rhinosinusitis. Rhinosinusitis probably affects more than 25 million Americans and 2.5 million Canadians.

As we know the quality of life of patients with chronic or recurrent sinusitis can be unpleasant. Antibiotics are prescribed for nearly all patients with sinusitis, but they are not always effective and increase the risk of antibiotic resistance.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ September 2, 2016) looks at the pragmatic approach to treating rhinosinusitis. The study involved adults age 18 to 65 years old with a history of chronic or recurrent sinusitis from 72 primary care practices in the United Kingdom. These individuals reported that the illness impacted their quality of life. They were randomly assigned to one of four strategies: usual care, daily nasal saline irrigation, daily steam inhalation, or combined treatment with both interventions. They were followed for three to six months.

The study concluded:

  1. Nasal irrigation: Nasal irrigation for chronic or recurrent symptoms was less effective than prior evidence suggested, but it resulted in reduced overall symptom burden, headache, use of over-the-counter medications and the perceived need to consult primary care physicians in future episodes.
  2. Steam inhalation: Steam inhalation had no consistent benefits. On a personal note – I have found steam inhalation done twice a day does provide temporary symptomatic relief by unblocking the nasal passages. You can try it. It may help but it will not hurt.

The common cold can lead to rhinosinusitis. Common cold is caused by a virus (rhinovirus), and in most cases the severity of symptoms peak by day three. However, the same virus can activate an inflammatory process leading to bronchitis, pharyngitis, and rhinosinusitis.

Rhinosinusitis caused by bacteria usually gets better in less than four weeks. Within this 4-week period, symptoms resolve either spontaneously or with appropriate treatment. There may be up to three episodes per year and full recovery in between episodes.

Harvard researchers found that sinusitis sufferers reported the highest levels of pain and the lowest levels of social functioning, as well as significant problems with work, energy, and mental health.

Mayo Clinic website says, “One of the simplest, cheapest, and most effective ways to prevent and treat sinus problems is nasal irrigation. Using a homemade solution, you can often relieve sinusitis symptoms, reduce reliance on nasal sprays and antibiotics, and improve your quality of life.”

Hope this information helps. Flu season is coming. Do not forget your flu shot!

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2 Replies to “Pragmatic Approach to Treating Inflamed Nasal Passages and Sinuses”

  1. Nasal Irrigation:

    Reference:
    http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/what_to_do_about_sinusitis

    From Harvard Education website:

    First line of defense against sinusitis: Nasal irrigation
    One of the simplest, cheapest, and most effective ways to prevent and treat sinus problems is nasal irrigation. Using a homemade solution, you can often relieve sinusitis symptoms, reduce reliance on nasal sprays and antibiotics, and improve your quality of life. At least once a day, follow these steps:
    1. Stir ½ teaspoon of non-iodized salt and ½ teaspoon of baking soda into 2 cups of lukewarm distilled or previously boiled water (as recommended by the American Academy of Otolaryngology).
    2. Fill a small bulb syringe with the saltwater solution. (If you prefer, you can use a small pitcher called a neti pot to stream the solution through your nose.)
    3. Lean over your bathroom or kitchen sink, insert the tip of the syringe just inside one nostril, and gently squeeze the bulb. The water will run back out the nostril (or possibly the opposite nostril) and into the sink. Use at least one full bulb of solution.
    4. Repeat the procedure in the other nostril. (If the salt solution stings your nose, use less salt.)
    5. Thoroughly rinse (with distilled or cooled boiled water) and dry the bulb syringe or neti pot after each use.

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