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About the Sinuses

Zucker Nasal and Sinus Center

What exactly are the sinuses?

The sinuses are airspaces contained within the bones of the face and skull. These spaces are connected to the nasal passages by small tubes or openings called ostium. These openings enter into the nose in an area referred to as the osteomeatal complex or units. These drainage areas allow air to move from the nose into the sinuses to keep them dry and allow the mucous produced by the lining of the sinuses (sometimes up to a liter per day) to flow into the nose and eventually pass into the throat. 

There are four paired sinuses:

  • maxillary sinuses (in the cheeks)
  • ethmoid sinuses (between the eyes)
  • frontal sinuses (in the forehead)
  • sphenoid sinuses (in the middle of the head at the back of the nose)

Anything that blocks the normal drainage and flow pattern can cause back up of the fluid into the sinuses.  This can be from a deviated septum, nasal polyps, facial trauma, congenital narrowing, common cold, or allergies.  If the fluid remains in the sinuses, it becomes warm, dark and wet—a perfect place for germs or bacteria to grow, possibly leading to rhinosinusitis.

How do I know if I have sinusitis?  What are the symptoms?

Acute sinusitis can commonly occur with upper respiratory infections. Chronic sinusitis may produce less severe symptoms than the acute phase, but can damage the lining of the sinuses making recovery more difficult.

Common symptoms include:

  • facial pain around eyes, forehead, or cheeks
  • chronic fatigue
  • headache
  • nasal congestion
  • nasal drainage (yellow, yellow-green)
  • pain in the roof of the mouth or teeth

Symptoms may last for three months or more.