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It is in all likelihood a sinus infection — sinusitis in medical parlance, an ailment that afflicts an about 37 million Americans each year, that is now soaring in prevalence and that is the fifth most common reason for which antibiotics are prescribed. But, experts say, in many cases that prescription is inappropriate and ill-advised, and this misuse of antibiotics is contributing to a growing medical crisis: antibiotic resistance among common bacterial causes of respiratory infections.
Sinus infections actually know no seasons, but as the weather cools and upper respiratory infections race through families, friends and work sites, the chance that one or more people will wind up with sinusitis sharply increases. Thus, it is important for everyone to know when to suspect sinusitis, when and how to self-treat and when a doctor's visit and antibiotics are warranted.
Causes, Signs and Symptoms
Sinusitis is an infection in one or more of the sinus cavities, the air-filled spaces in the front of the skull that keep the head from being too heavy to hold up. There are four sets of sinus cavities located behind and around the nose and eyes. Three of those sets — the maxillaries inside each cheekbone, the ethmoids between the eyes and the spenoids behind the nose — are present at birth but do not develop fully until about the age of 20. The fourth set, the frontal sinuses above the eyes and nose and behind the forehead, does not begin to develop until about the age of 8.
Each sinus cavity is connected to the nasal passages by a very thin tube that allows mucus to drain and air exchange to take place. An upper respiratory infection or nasal allergy can block drainage from a sinus cavity and permit a bacterial infection to take hold in the accumulating mucus.
Typical symptoms of a bacterial sinus infection include nasal congestion, globs of thick yellow-green mucus, facial pain or pressure, sometimes pain in the upper teeth and a low-gr...
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