Asthma and Sinusitis Symptoms and Treatments

Close cousins, these related conditions can cause inflammation and obstruct airways. Here are some similarities and differences in the causes of and treatments for asthma and sinusitis.

Asthma and Sinusitis Symptoms and Treatments

Sinusitis is a common condition in which the sinuses—the four cavities around the nasal passages—become inflamed and swollen. This causes mucus buildup that makes it difficult to breath through your nose. Sinusitis can be acute (lasting up to 4 weeks), sub-acute (lasting from 4 to 12 weeks), or chronic (lasting 12 weeks or longer despite treatment). Besides difficulty breathing, the condition can cause pain and swelling around your eyes, nose, cheeks, and forehead, and a throbbing headache.

Approximately 30 million Americans (one in seven) suffer from acute sinusitis each year. Some experience several bouts a year, and many have a chronic problem. Sinusitis is more common in adults than children.

How are asthma and sinusitis related?
The relationship between asthma and sinusitis is not fully understood. Generally speaking, they are related conditions in that they are both inflammatory reactions that obstruct the airways.

More specifically, sinusitis can trigger asthma attacks, and about one in five people with chronic sinusitis have asthma. Similarly, those with asthma or allergies have a higher risk for sinusitis, and the risk is highest among those with severe asthma, especially when coupled with nasal polyps or sensitivity to aspirin. In one study, 80 percent of people with aspirin-induced asthma had symptoms of sinusitis. Other studies have shown that asthma symptoms improve, lung function increases, and medication reliance drops after sinusitis is treated with antibiotics in people who have both conditions.

What causes sinusitis?
Acute sinusitis is normally caused by a viral respiratory infection, such as a bad cold. Chronic sinusitis may be caused by bacterial or fungal infections, nasal polyps, a deviated nasal septum, allergies, or other medical conditions. For example, recurring allergies that cause inflammation and swelling can lead to a bacterial or fungal infection, and that can lead to chronic sinusitis.

How do you treat sinusitis?
Treating acute sinusitis involves nasal irrigation with a saline solution, decongestants, antihistamines, and expectorants. For chronic cases, doctors usually prescribe antibiotics. A corticosteroid nasal spray or, in some cases, an oral corticosteroid, such as prednisone, is often prescribed.

Are there any treatments that work for both asthma and sinusitis?
Treatments differ for sinusitis and asthma, but they may overlap, especially when both conditions are allergic in nature. Oral corticosteroids may reduce the inflammation that occurs with both conditions, and leukotriene-antagonists, often prescribed for asthma, may also help reduce symptoms of sinusitis. Additionally, immunotherapy, or allergy shots, can treat underlying allergies that contribute to both asthma and sinusitis.

Similar preventive steps can keep both asthma and sinusitis from flaring up, including:

On the other hand, some treatments for asthma and sinusitis may conflict. For example, a humidifier may relieve sinusitis, but asthma reacts better to dry air conditions. If you have both sinusitis and asthma, it's important to work with your doctor to create a treatment plan catered to your unique symptoms and needs.

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