When it comes to our health, sinuses — the air-filled cavities in certain bones of the head and face — are a bit of a mystery.
Researchers aren’t sure exactly why we have them. They might be there to keep the head from becoming too heavy, to moisten the air we take in or to shape our voices.
In any case, these tiny cavities are the source of sinus infections for more than 37 million Americans each year. It’s worth knowing what they are and how they work.
We have four pairs of sinuses (also called “paranasal sinuses”), or eight in total. Sinuses give us the tone and depth of our voice, which explains why we sound different when we have a cold. Some sinuses don’t stop growing until you’re about 20 years old.
- The ethmoid sinuses are at the nasal bridge between the eyes. They look like a mesh formation.
- The frontal sinuses are in the lower center of the forehead bone, above the eyes and nasal bridge.
- The sphenoid sinuses are behind the nasal cavity.
- The largest sinuses, the maxillary sinuses, are in each cheekbone.
These structures are lined with a moist mucous membrane, and they’re usually empty except for a small amount of mucus. The membrane helps moisten the air we breathe, and its mucus covering and small hairs known as cilia help trap and clear germs and irritants.
Common sinus problems
All too often, the sinuses can become irritated or infected. Some of the more common sinus problems are:
- Acute sinusitis: When bacteria or viruses infect the sinuses, problems like a runny nose, headache or congestion can result.
- Chronic sinusitis: This is acute sinusitis, amplified. When the infection lingers for more than three months or repeatedly comes back, it’s a “chronic” case that might require different treatments.
- Allergic rhinitis: Also called allergies or hay fever, this happens when allergens (such as pollen or pet dander) causes the body’s defense mechanisms to go into overdrive. Symptoms can include coughing, sneezing, watery eyes and more.
The sinuses are small but can cause big problems when irritated. If you have any questions about your sinus health, give us a call for a consultation.