Cold and flu season is upon is, and we’re all likely to experience a cough, runny nose, or sore throat at some point in the coming months. Luckily after about 7-10 days, and a few bowls of chicken soup, the common cold typically resolves with no trouble.
For some, however, the annoying symptoms last for weeks – even months.
If you’ve been experiencing “cold” symptoms for several weeks, you might be suffering from chronic rhinosinusitis.
Chronic rhinosinusitis is an inflammatory disease of the paranasal sinuses that lasts at least 12 weeks, despite attempts to treat it.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), 1% to 5% of the U.S. population suffers from the disease, and it can really affect your quality of life.
How Do I Know If I Have Chronic Rhinosinusitis?
If you’ve been experiencing at least two of the following symptoms for 12 or more weeks, it’s time to go see your primary care physician.
- Nasal congestion
- Mucus discharge from the nose or mucus that drips down the back of the throat
- Facial pain, pressure, or “fullness”
- A decreased sense of smell
What Should I Do if I Think I Have Chronic Rhinosinusitis?
First, consult your physician to confirm the diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. There are several non-invasive treatments for the disease that can improve your condition.
This should be your first course of action! According to the AAFP, multiple studies have demonstrated that simple daily saline irrigations can reduce symptoms and improve quality of life in patients with chronic rhinosinusitis. In at least half of the patients studied, their symptoms were significantly reduced with the use of low-pressure, high volume saline irrigation.
Corticosteroid Nasal Sprays
Another first-line treatment option is a corticosteroid nasal spray like Flonase, Nasacort or Rhinocort. These are anti-inflammatory medicines that you spray into your nose that are safe for long-term use.
Occasionally antibiotics are recommended for treating chronic rhinosinusitis if there is evidence of an active, superimposed acute sinus infection.
If medical management fails, endoscopic sinus surgery may be effective. Although it’s important to note that while surgery will likely relieve symptoms and improve your overall quality of life, it won’t cure the condition, so first-line treatments like saline and nasal sprays may still be required. Before considering surgery, you should be referred to an otolaryngologist.
If you think your symptoms might be evidence of more than just the common cold, make an appointment to see your physician, and try first-line treatments before resorting to antibiotics or surgery.
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AHMAD R. SEDAGHAT, MD, PhD, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts