What is Sinusitis? A Western Medical Perspective

Sinusitis in its most basic form refers to inflammation of the sinuses. This affects approximately 12% of the adult population in the United States. To understand the problem, it is important to differentiate the “sinuses” apart from the “nose”, or nasal airway. Sinuses are pockets (or cavities) within our body. Today we are referring to the sinuses that are positioned in our face and head, alongside our nasal airway. No one really knows why we have sinuses here. Some have speculated they allow our heads to have less weight, thereby facilitating walking upright. Although we don’t know exactly why we have sinuses, we do have to deal with the consequences when things go awry.

On a microscopic level, healthy sinuses are lined with a thin membrane (or tissue) that is composed of respiratory mucosa (pseudostratified ciliated columnar epithelium) with interspersed flask-shaped goblet cells which produce secretions or mucus. The combination of these allows for the production of sinus mucus that is continuously washed away by these hairs (cilia) to keep the surface clean of debris.  

Each sinus cavity has a small opening and healthy function of the sinuses requires that all of the mucus created inside the sinus to be washed out this opening, into the nose, and ultimately down our throats.

Inflammation of the sinuses can create a number of problems for us. We know that part of the disfunction turns out to either start with, or cause, the respiratory mucosa to become thicker and around the same time, the tiny hair cells stop moving and even sometimes disappear. We think this process could be started by numerous factors, such as a viral or bacterial infection, allergies, systemic (whole body) inflammatory conditions, or external irritants such as chemicals.  To confuse us even more, there are conditions that can result in an innate disfunction of the respiratory mucosa which result in thickening of the tissue and either non-functioning or completely absent hair cells. In order to successfully address each person’s sinusitis, we work diligently to accurately identify the underlying cause of disfunction and then support the sinuses as they are given a chance to return to normal function.

Here at Exhale Sinus, TMJ, Headache & Sleep, we work collaboratively to provide supportive therapies and minimally invasive procedures (when necessary) to improve the functioning of your sinuses with the goal of improved drainage, decreased congestion, reduction in facial pain and headaches, and restoration of a healthy body state.

To watch a short YouTube video on sinus anatomy and sinusitis, click here.

To learn about the East-Asian Medicine view and approach to the sinuses, please click on Lisa Decatorsmith’s blog.

Feel Better. Be Better. Thrive.

Author: Ryan Vaughn, MD

Ryan C Vaughn, MD
Founder and Director at Exhale Sinus, TMJ, Headache & Sleep