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  • Writer's pictureDr. Koralla Raja Meghanadh

Is a sinus infection dangerous?

Updated: Aug 3, 2023


In the olden days, when we did not have endoscopic sinus surgery and CT scan, the easiest way to kill a patient was with sinus surgery. These were the words of Dr. H. P. Mosher in 1929.

The easiest way for a surgeon to kill a patient is during a sinus operation.
Is a sinus infection dangerous?

Technological developments and inventions like endoscopes, lasers, and navigation systems have made surgery extremely safe. The point to be taken here is that sinuses are present at a critical position in our body.


The sinus is an air-filled pocket or cavity located near critical structures like the brain, eye, and other vital organs’ nerves. Sinus diseases can create complications due to their location.


Sinus infections, medically known as sinusitis, are a common ailment affecting millions of people worldwide. While most cases are mild and resolve independently, some sinus infections can be or become more severe and potentially pose risks.


Why is sinus infection dangerous?

Sinus infections, although mild in most cases, if the infection increases beyond a point or the immunity gets low, the impact of the sinus infection can be dangerous. Sinuses are located close to the eyes and brain. These damages could be irreversible.


Mucormycosis, or the black fungus, is an extremely rare sinus fungal infection where fungus spreads rapidly through the blood vessels. Untreated black fungus, within a few weeks, the fungus can spread to the brain, which will cause death. That’s how close the sinuses are to the brain. Thankfully most of the sinus disease’s progression is very slow compared to mucormycosis.


Why do people take sinusitis lightly?

This slow progression has created a massive lack of awareness about sinusitis. Most people see it is an extended common cold. Sinus infection is a dangerous disease and can lead to complications when left untreated, although the general public takes it easy as in most cases, somehow, the body can manage it for a very long time and sometimes for decades.


In 95% of sinus disease patients, our body can heal itself without a doctor’s intervention. In 1%, their disease can get severe with time, and a doctor might not be of any help. But, doctors play a vital role in the remaining 4%. A doctor’s job is to identify which slot the patient fits and give treatment accordingly. A doctor gives the 95% lot a gentle treatment, 4% an aggressive one, and the remaining 1% do not treat. Due to the 95% lot, where the patients can use self-heal, the general notion is that sinus is not dangerous, making the 95% progress into completely avoidable 4% and 1% categories.


Why should we treat sinus infections?

A sinus infection can spread to the lungs, voicebox, ear, eye, and brain when left untreated. Although 95% have mild sinusitis, the remaining 5% risk losing their eyes and life. Therefore, it is better to get treated when we belong to 95% rather than risk going into the 5% lot and ending with surgery. Medicines or home remedies work better for milder sinusitis patients. So, the earlier you start early, you recover. Do not postpone if the doctor suggests a sinus surgery with some excuses. Get it done ASAP.

Sinus surgery gives good results in early stages than later stages

Potential Dangerous Complications

Complications occur rarely but can occur in all stages of sinusitis, including long-standing chronic and acute sinusitis.


Acute sinusitis complications

Complications of acute sinusitis are rarer and more severe when compared to chronic sinusitis, and acute sinusitis complications occur when immunity takes a toll due to as simple reasons as stress. These require immediate attention.

  1. Orbital cellulitis and orbital abscess (infection in eyes)

  2. Complications in the brain like meningitis and encephalitis


Chronic sinusitis complications

Although these complications can cause permanent damage, they progress slowly, causing patients to ignore the complications too.

  1. Laryngitis (voice box infection)

  2. Bronchitis & Pneumonia (if the infection spreads to the lungs)

  3. Otitis media (middle ear infection)

It is common for sinusitis to turn into asthma when it spreads to the lungs, a disease that cannot be cured but just controlled. Untreated ear infections can lead to deafness or major surgery.


Treatment of Sinusitis versus Treating its Complications

All these complications can be avoided if treated on time with proper medication. In fact, antibiotics used to treat sinusitis are far safer than the antibiotics used for asthma.


Considering the surgery, too, the surgery recovery will be very quicker when compared to surgery done in case of eardrum rupture. If the infection spreads to the inner ear from the middle ear and the hearing loss is high, then a cochlear implant surgery could be required, whose basic cost is almost three times the cost of advanced sinus surgery. You will require months of therapy, too, after the surgery.


To know more about complications, you can read our article on them.

"Complications of Sinusitis" by Dr. K. R. Meghanadh


Conclusion

While most sinus infections are not dangerous, understanding the potential risks and seeking timely medical attention is crucial. With proper diagnosis and treatment, sinus infections can be effectively managed, reducing the risk of complications and promoting a swift recovery. If you suspect a sinus infection or experience persistent symptoms, don't hesitate to seek professional medical advice to safeguard your health and well-being.

If you want to know about the treatment, you can read our article


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FAQs

Is sinus a serious problem?

Yes, it is a serious problem. However, many individuals fail to recognize its seriousness, as in many cases, it can resolve on its own without medical attention. But if left untreated, it can cause complications in various organs such as the eyes, brain, ears, lungs, etc. So, it's best to treat it on time.

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