Diseases of the sinuses

What are the sinuses?

Sinuses are air-filled cavities covered by a mucosal layer and located within the bones of your face and skull. 

The nose and sinuses are important for filtering, heating and moistening the air you breathe through your nose, which is an important function that protects your lungs. Sinus cavities may also contribute to voice resonance and can absorb energy to protect the brain from trauma. 

Acute or chronic sinusitis?

Sinus diseases can be split into two categories: acute (rapid onset) or chronic (over a long period of time). Acute sinusitis is the most common form, and is characterized by a short infection or inflammation of the sinonasal mucosa, which resolves quickly after 1-2 weeks. On the other hand, chronic sinusitis symptoms last for more than 12 weeks.

Types of chronic sinusitis

Chronic sinusitis (also called chronic rhinosinusitis) is a broad diagnosis that includes different disease subtypes, further classified based on the presence of nasal polyps:

  • Chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps (CRSwNP)
  • Chronic rhinosinusitis without nasal polyps (CRSsNP)

Causes of chronic sinusitis

Although not fully understood, chronic rhinosinusitis is usually caused by a combination of different factors that contribute to the development of the disease. It occurs due to a malfunctional interaction between individual patient characteristics (including genes) and environmental factors. Chronic sinusitis can arise due to:

  • Respiratory infection
  • Immune system disorders
  • Allergic reaction to airborne antigens or to substances produced by certain bacteria and fungi
  • Inhalation of small particles like cigarette smoke or pollutants
  • Genetics

What are nasal polyps? Causes, symptoms, and treatments

Learn more

Additional FAQs

Difference between chronic sinusitis or chronic rhinosinusitis?

Inflammation of the sinuses is often referred to as sinusitis. However, the term rhinosinusitis is preferred to sinusitis since the inflammation of the sinuses rarely occurs without simultaneous inflammation of the nasal mucosa. Both terms are commonly used interchangeably.

Is chronic sinusitis inherited?

Chronic sinusitis with nasal polyps runs in families but also chronic sinusitis without nasal polyps has been observed in family members, strongly suggesting that a hereditary (=genetic) factor contributes to the disease. However, studies in identical twins showed that both siblings will not necessarily develop nasal polyps, which emphasizes the additional and important role of non-hereditary, environmental factors. 

Can chronic sinusitis be cured?

In general, this is a chronic disease that cannot easily be cured, however patients sometimes have long periods of well-controlled disease. The treatment aims primarily to control patient's symptoms. Other goals are to reduce mucosal inflammation, to establish sinus drainage of secretions and to reduce sudden worsening of symptoms. Usually the disease becomes less severe after 60 years of age.

What the experts say about the causes of chronic rhinosinusitis: