For most people, sinus problems caused by colds or allergies are fairly common and can range from a case of sinusitis all the way to a full-blown sinus infection. Sinusitis simply means that there is inflammation in your sinuses, which are the hollow spaces located in the bones behind your eyebrows, cheeks, and jaw.
While the purpose of the sinuses is not completely understood, it is known that they help clean bacteria and other particles out of the air you breathe in. The sinuses produce mucus, which, along with tiny hairs called cilia, removes contaminants by catching them and moving them toward the nasal passages where they can drain.
Sinusitis can be caused by a range of circumstances, including a common cold, allergies, and changes in temperature or air pressure, as well as the growth of polyps that can block your sinus passages. Left untreated, sinusitis can progress into a sinus infection, during which a virus or bacteria attacks the lining on the inside of your sinuses, causing them to swell.
As with many health conditions, we have to be careful with sinusitis as we age because our bodies don’t fight off infections as well and we don’t heal as quickly as we did when we were younger. For example, part of aging is that the mucus membranes in our nasal passages get thinner and don’t produce as much mucus. That means the system for getting rid of contaminants we breathe in doesn’t work as efficiently and a lot of germs, dust, and pollen get trapped in the sinuses, where they can cause problems.
Also, because seniors are more likely to be dealing with chronic health issues, it’s important to be aware of possible drug interactions between sinus medications, including over-the-counter products, and other prescribed medications. For example, some types of decongestant can increase your heart rate, which is not good if you’re dealing with a heart condition. As always, it’s best to check with your physician if you have any questions.
Symptoms and treatments
The most common symptom of sinusitis is a feeling of pressure in your cheeks, forehead, and behind your eyes, which can become painful if it’s severe enough. Additionally, you’ll probably experience drainage into your throat, which could result in coughing and a sore throat. You’ll also have difficulty breathing through your nose due to the congestion and swollen air passages.
For minor cases of sinusitis, there are several good treatment options that don’t require a prescription. For example, a saline nasal spray can help clean out your nasal passages and allow you to breathe more freely. Plus, you can use it as often as you want. Nasal irrigation using a neti pot is another option that may provide some relief. Make sure you use distilled or sterile water because water straight from the tap can contain organisms that may cause infections.
An over-the-counter nasal decongestant can also provide some relief by allowing you to breathe more easily. However, you should not use decongestants for more than three days because it can make the swelling worse once you stop using it. Also, it’s a good idea to use an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed.
Finally, for severe cases that have turned into a sinus infection caused by bacteria, your physician may prescribe an antibiotic. Even though you’ll start to feel better after a couple of days, it’s important that you finish the medication until it’s gone.