©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Sinusitis causes nasal passages to swell and become irritated. This is typically followed by a headache that ranges in severity.

Like it or not, your nose is an immeasurably valuable part of your anatomy. On the outside, it serves to hold your sunglasses in the vicinity of your eyes. On the inside, it incorporates an intricate system of narrow passages and eight hollow, air-containing spaces -- connected to both your eyes and ears -- that enable you to inhale air from the environment and process it before it gets to your lungs. While it is easy to understand how a passageway is necessary in this process, what possible function can be carried out by the hollow spaces? 

The hollow spaces, known as the paranasal sinuses, are located in pairs behind the eyebrows, in each cheekbone, behind the nose, and between the eyes. Because they are filled only with air, they act as a sort of "echo chamber," giving resonance to your voice. They also lessen the weight of your skull, cushion it against shocks, and give you better balance.

The most important function of your sinuses, however, is as a "conditioner" for inhaled air on its way to your lungs. Normally, the membranes lining the nose and sinuses produce between a pint and a quart of mucus and secretions a day.

This discharge passes through the nose, sweeping and washing the membranes and picking up dust particles, bacteria, and other air pollutants along the way. The mucus is then swept backward into the throat by tiny undulating hairs called cilia. From there, it is swallowed into the stomach, where acids destroy dangerous bacteria. It's all in a day's work for the lining of the sinuses and the nasal cavity.

But when those nasal passages become irritated or inflamed by an allergy attack, air pollution, smoke, or a viral infection such as a cold or the flu, the nose and sinus membranes secrete more than the normal amount of mucus. They also swell, blocking the openings and preventing an easy flow of mucus and air and setting the stage for bacteria to flourish.

Sinus trouble comes in two versions: acute and chronic. The acute attack of sinusitis, which lasts for a week to ten days, produces a headache that can range in intensity from minor to what feels like bone-shattering.

Chronic sinusitis -- which occurs when a sinus opening is blocked for an extended period -- seldom causes head pain, although it does cause unpleasant discharge, chronic coughing, recurrent ear infections, and a roaring case of postnasal drip.

But the lack of real pain is misleading; chronic sinusitis can be serious indeed, because bacteria can become so entrenched after repeated infections that no antibiotic can touch them. That's why it's wise to have your sinus problem checked out by a doctor, especially if your sinus drainage is greenish in color or if you have a fever.

If your sinuses make your life miserable, do you have to live with it? Not necessarily, say experts. See the next page for home remedies to head off the worst of the symptoms.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.