Dr. Grossan's Ear, Nose and Throat Consultant Pages

Sinus Disease & Problems explained

Why Do We Have Sinuses? - The Healthy Sinus

The sinuses are cavities, basically empty space, in your head. While the empty spaces might have no more purpose than to make our heads lighter and easier to move, the lining of the sinuses provide an absolutely essential function: They protect the body from dust, pollen, other types of foreign matter, and germs in the air we breathe.

The sinuses are lined with a mucous membrane, soft, moist tissue covered with a layer of mucous. The surface tissue is densely covered with microscopic hair-like cilia.

Electron micrograph of a human nasal cilia. Click on the image for a full-size picture.
The cilia wave back and forth, moving the mucous, and the pollen, germs, and irritants caught in it, around the sinuses until they are flushed out to the stomach via the back of the throat. This is the way your body prevents bacteria from entering the body while you are breathing through your nose; proper cilia action is essential for your health.

A diagram of the sinuses and an explanation is given here if you want to learn the names and see the locations of the different sinus cavities( frontal, maxillary, ethmoid, and sphenoid). This might be helpful, for example, to understand a doctor's diagnosis or your X-ray.


Thirty-five million people in US have sinusitis, but few people understand sinus diseases, its causes, and the range of treatments available. Sinusitis refers to any kind of inflammation or irritation of the sinuses. This is typically caused by bacterial infections. Since the sinuses connect directly with the nose, usually the main signs of a sinus infection are a stuffy nose and drainage from the nose. The reason that sinusitis can be so debilitating, and why it can become serious when complications occur, is that sinus infections weaken the body's mechanism for keeping away more infection - the cilia. The worse your sinuses get, the worse your sinuses get, until treated. Your very breathing is dependent on clear sinuses, making sinusitis particularly unpleasant.

Sinusitis is usually caused by bacteria, especially S.pneumoniae, H. influenzae and M. catarrhalis. Your doctor may take a culture to determine which bacteria is present, so he or she can figure out how to fight your infection. When the sinuses are blocked, the result is a good environment for infectious bacteria to live. Healthy sinuses have cilia that move bacteria out of the sinus fast enough that bacterial growth cannot occur. However, if the cilia don't beat fast enough due to a bad cold or flu, or if the sinus drainage is blocked, infection will result.

In patients with immune system disorders including AIDS, fungus organisms are sometimes found to cause a sinus infection.


A bad abscess in the frontal sinuses can drill through the bone and come out above or into the eye.

In extreme cases of sinus infection, the infection can spread and do horrible things - they can even infect the brain. These conditions are rare, however, and most patients with serious infections respond to antibiotics. This treatment has the drawback of making patients immune to antibiotics; other infections later in life could become serious while the doctor is searching for an antibiotic that the infection has no immunity to. For some types of sinus problems, surgeries can be effective, but they have complications. That's why prevention and early treatment of infection with pulsatile irrigation is the better option.


Prevention -

  • Be very gentle on blowing your nose
  • Move away from people who are coughing and sneezing.
  • It is important to get a good night's sleep when you have a cold.
  • Use pulsatile nasal irrigation to remove yellow mucus and help the natural defense of the body - the cilia - do their job.

    After you get sinusitis

  • Always consult your doctor.
  • Use hot compresses to the sinus area.
  • Drink lots of hot tea and chicken soup. Rest and relax.
  • Use Pulsatile Irrigation daily.

    More Information on Sinusitis Topics

    The Sinus Cavities (Sinus Anatomy 1)

    Your head has a cavity, the nasal cavity, which connects directly to the nose, but is not part of the sinus. The important stuff, the cilia, are in the four sinuses, which each have left and right halves -
  • Frontal Sinuses - above your eyes, just behind the forehead.
  • Maxillary Sinus - to the side of the nose, and below the eye, just above the upper teeth, below the eyes and in back of the nose at the top of the throat.
  • Ethmoid Sinus - between the eyes (actually within the spongy ethmoid bone).
  • Sphenoid Sinus - WAY back in the head, far behind the eyes, above the throat (in back of the nasal cavity). This sinus is just forward of the brain case, making complications here quite serious.

    The sinuses are lined with a (respiratory) covering which is coated with mucous. The cilia move the mucous around to flush out foreign bodies and germs.

    Back to The On-Line ENT-Consultant Home Page
    Last Update 2003 October 1

    Murray Grossan M.D.