Ep. 16: Everything (most things) You Need to Know about Sinus Cavities
I believe everyone has heard about facial sinus cavities and that a sinus infection can happen.
However, in order to better understand how to treat these problems, it is important to learn more about sinus cavities. Who has them? Where are they located? What do they do?
First, what are facial sinus cavities?
Our skull bone is thick and heavy because it protects our delicate brain and eyeballs.
Sinus cavities, hollow, air-filled areas inside some of our skull and facial bones, are lined by soft pink tissue called mucosa, which produces mucus. Be sure to check out my post which shares the important role that mucus has in our health.
There are 4 different sets of sinus cavities, but they are connected to each other by common drainage pathways.
Each sinus can vary in size based on age but also upon location. Some of them are just one big cavity, and some have little dividing bones to make them a group of smaller sinus cavities.
Where are the different sinus cavities located?
The sinuses enter the facial bones through drainage sites inside of the nose. I have previously detailed the function of the nose which also highlights how the sinuses related to the rest of the nasal anatomy.
Although many people simply say that they have a sinus infection or pressure in their sinuses, the location of the sinus can help us to know which sinus is involved. The four main sinuses are :
- Maxillary sinus: the largest sinus located in the cheekbone area
- Ethmoid sinuses: actually a cluster of small sinuses (6-12) located between the eye and the nose
- Frontal sinus: located in the low-center part of the forehead
- Sphenoid sinus: located in the bone straight back behind the nose, like in the center of the head!
Most of us have a sinus or group of sinuses on each side of our faces; however, some people are missing some and others grow extra ones.
Why do we have sinus cavities?
The short answer is: no one knows! There are several theories, and I like all of them.
- Help humidify the air we breathe
- Help filter the air we breathe
- Improve the quality of our voices
- Enhance our sense of smell
- Simply make our heads lighter! (actually my favorite!)
When do sinus cavities develop?
This is such an important question because at least once a week, someone tells me that babies do not have sinus cavities yet. Ummm, nope.
Well to be fair, that statement is partially correct because the sinus cavities do not develop all at the same time.
The maxillary and ethmoid sinuses develop during the third month of pregnancy. That’s right, infants are born with sinus cavities! And…those sinuses CAN get infected. Sinus infections in infants, like so many other infant infections, can be a true emergency because the bone between the nose, eyes, and brain is thin. Infections can easily pass between locations in infants. So keep flushing that mucus out of your baby’s nose!
The sphenoid sinus develops from the back of the ethmoid sinus around four years of age.
The last sinus to develop is the frontal sinus which starts for form around age 7 but is not fully mature until mid-teen years.
What diseases can happen in the sinus cavities?
Obviously, the biggie is an infection! When the nose becomes inflamed and swollen due to the common cold or allergies, the sinus drainage pathways can become blocked. Mucus gets trapped in the sinuses, and infections occur.
An entire post can be dedicated to sinus infections, but a brief overview is that there are 3 basic types:
- Acute: (short-term) Symptoms last less than 12 weeks and get better with the appropriate treatment.
- Chronic: (long-term) Symptoms last longer than 12 weeks.
- Recurrent: This means the infection comes back repeatedly. Typically, 3 or more episodes of acute sinusitis in a year.
Besides the expected viral and bacterial sinus infections, there may also be fungal infections, nasal polyps, and tumors (both benign and malignant) that need to be evaluated.
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