Article written by Dr. Samuel Ross Patton MD
Sinusitis is one of the most common medical conditions affecting adults in the United States. Americans experience nearly 29 million sinus infections per year. Stuffy nose, fever, facial pain, headache, discolored drainage and post-nasal drip can be all-too-familiar as most people get sick with an upper respiratory or sinus infection once or twice a year. Many of these infections can be successfully treated with over-the-counter medications. Some sinus infections, however, require a prescription from your primary care provider for antibiotics. So, when should you see an ENT/Sinus specialist?
- You have symptoms frequently throughout the year.
It is normal to get sick with an upper respiratory or sinus infection a couple times per year. We all get sick from time to time; unfortunately, it’s part of the human condition. Experiencing sinusitis four or more times per year is more than usual. This is especially a problem if each infection requires antibiotics to treat it. Although antibiotics are quite safe and effective, frequent use of antibiotics can lead to trouble. Antibiotics, like all medications, can have side effects and using too many antibiotics puts you at risk for developing resistant bacteria.
- Your symptoms never fully go away.
Most episodes of sinusitis resolve within 14 days. The vast majority of these infections run their course and you get back to your old self. Occasionally, a sinus infection will never fully go away; even after taking antibiotics. Feeling like you never get all the way back to normal between sinus infections could be a sign of chronic sinusitis- a long term sinus infection that smolders for months or even years. Chronic sinusitis may require advanced treatment with an ENT/Sinus specialist.
- Your symptoms are very severe.
Being sick is no fun. It’s uncomfortable, irritating, and sometimes downright miserable. Fortunately, for most sinus conditions the worst of it comes and goes over the period of a few days. Many adults are still able to motor through their normal routines without taking time off. Typical sinus infections, however, are not debilitating. Taking lots of time off work for sinus symptoms is a red flag for having a severe problem. Similarly, requiring trips to urgent care or the emergency room because your symptoms are unbearable is another good indicator you need help.
- You don’t improve with treatment.
Anyone who has taken antibiotics knows that they don’t work instantly. It usually takes two to three days for them to kick in. What happens if you don’t feel better after taking antibiotics? If you have been sick for less than 14 days, you may just have a virus—which won’t respond to any antibiotics. If your symptoms last longer than two weeks and don’t get better with antibiotics, you may require evaluation by an ENT specialist. Some sinus infections are caused by bacteria that are resistant to certain antibiotics. Getting a culture from the sinuses helps your doctor know which antibiotic to use. In some circumstances, medication alone can’t get rid of a sinus problem.
Sinus symptoms can evolve slowly over time. As a patient, it can be difficult to perceive the change from one day to the next. This may make it hard to tell when a sinus condition crosses the line between the expected course and going off the rails. With these guidelines you will know when to see an ENT/Sinus specialist and get the care you need.
If you think it may be time to see an ENT/Sinus specialist, click here or call (713) 795-5343 to schedule an appointment today.