Acute vs. Chronic Sinusitis: What’s the Difference?

Updated on July 16, 2020

Those that have sinusitis know that it is a nuisance. Enjoying everyday activities can be difficult when you have something nagging at your breathing. For those that haven’t been diagnosed with sinusitis and are wondering if they are suffering from it, let’s look take a closer look at the symptoms, the different types and treatment options.

What is Sinusitis?

Sinusitis is the inflammation of the tissue that lines the sinuses. While healthy sinuses allow air to pass through freely, infected tissue blocks seamless airflow. Mucous and germs can build up in the sinuses and cause an infection that requires treatment.

Causes of Sinusitis

Sinusitis can have a host of causes. These causes can be pathological or mechanic. Pathological origins include the common cold, allergic rhinitis and nasal polyps.

The major mechanical cause of sinusitis is a deviated septum. This is a shift of the nasal cavity at a slight angle significant enough to block airflow. A deviated septum can result from an injury as much as it can be congenital. People that endure a broken nose often suffer from sinusitis if their nasal septum isn’t restored properly. A more in-depth look at the potential causes of the condition can help sinusitis sufferers understand the warning signs.


A viral infection can be the result of the common cold or bacteria that find their way into a sufferer’s nose. It doesn’t have to be a severe bout with the flu or a cold as a few particles are enough to spark a nasal blockage.

Enlarged Adenoids

Adenoids are a layer of tissue behind the node. As part of the lymphatic system, their job is to filter harmful particles. They do this by blocking the entrance of germs that attempt to enter the body through the nose and mouth.

As with any system in the human body, a significant enough disruption will cause the adenoids to become overwhelmed. An infection can cause inflammation which results in a shutdown of their filtering functionality.


Seasonal allergies will cause sinusitis if the sufferer is exposed to allergens for a long enough duration. Pollen, dust mites and mold spores can cause inflammation that will produce a similar result as with enlarged adenoids.

How Does Acute Sinusitis Differ from Chronic Sinusitis?

Sinusitis can be acute or chronic. The symptoms are similar but the duration and root cause is what differentiates them.

Acute Sinusitis

Acute sinusitis lasts up to eight weeks. Symptoms include sharp facial pressure and pain. Sufferers also experience congestion and discolored mucus.

Nasal Blockage

Nasal blockage can result from a growth within the nasal cavity, benign or otherwise, that will exacerbate breathing and result in inflammation. Nasal blockages can be the result of trauma as many contact and combat sport athletes will attest to.

It’s important to distinguish between acute and chronic sinusitis so as to best apply an appropriate treatment. Depending on the case, a sinusitis sufferer can overcome their condition through home treatment or by seeking the help of a medical professional.

Chronic Sinusitis

Chronic sinusitis lasts longer than acute sinusitis. Bouts of the condition can persist for anywhere from 12 weeks to several years at a time. Symptoms of chronic sinusitis tend to be milder than in acute cases but this can be misleading. Leaving chronic sinusitis may lead to complications that will eventually need medical intervention and possibly surgery.

Symptoms of Sinusitis

Sinusitis results in pain or pressure in the ears and nasal cavity. Sufferers usually find that they will excrete thick and discolored mucus. Additionally, some people will experience headaches and a decreased sense of smell or taste.

Because of the blockage in the nasal cavity, sinusitis can cause post-nasal drip. This is when mucous does not evaporate or run down the nostrils but rather is forced to drip down the back of the throat. This causes a persistent cough that can interfere with breathing and everyday activity.

Finally, some sinusitis sufferers may experience fatigue awhile others will have bad breath. This is due to the bacteria that multiply in the sinuses.

Treatment Options for Sinusitis

As with any ailment, prevention is always better than having to apply a cure. Chronic sinusitis can be treated with saline nasal irrigation. This can be achieved with sprays or solutions that you can use at home. Nasal corticosteroids can also be prescribed and administered orally or via injection. Temporary solutions include over the counter pain relievers while more drastic cases may require surgery to correct a deviated septum.

Find Out Whether You Have Sinusitis or Not

Before you can move to treat sinusitis, a diagnosis should be obtained. An ear-nose-throat specialist will be able to pinpoint the problem and suggest the proper course of action. Diagnosis can result from a visual look at your sinuses, imaging tests, allergy test or by analyzing sinus discharge in a lab.

A first step you can take to determine whether you have sinusitis before visiting your ENT specialist is to take a sinus quiz. By answering a few questions, you will gain a better understanding of your condition and take the appropriate path for reclaiming your sinus health.

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