What Happens If Chronic Sinusitis Goes Untreated?

For some people with sinusitis, it’s experienced merely as a mild irritation of the nasal airways. For others, it can be a serious health condition that affects all aspects of their daily lives. If left untreated, sinusitis can have severe and long-lasting health impacts. In this post, Dr. Paul Schalch Lepe discusses what happens if chronic sinusitis goes untreated and how to treat the condition effectively and safely.

What is chronic sinusitis?

Chronic sinusitis is a common condition affecting nearly 15% of US adults, characterized by prolonged inflammation and swelling of the sinuses, the air-filled cavities within our skull surrounding the nose. The condition typically lasts for 12 weeks or longer, despite medical treatment, hence the term “chronic.”

How does chronic sinusitis affect your overall health if left untreated?

The sinuses are responsible for producing mucus, which moisturizes the inside of the nose and protects against dust, pollutants, and microorganisms. In chronic sinusitis, the sinus cavities become blocked and filled with fluid, leading to persistent nasal congestion, discharge, and discomfort.

If left untreated, these sinus blockages lead to symptoms of chronic sinusitis, such as a persistent cough, nasal drip, bad breath, sore ears, sore throat, dizziness, nasal infection, trouble breathing, and disrupted sleep, which can then impact the patient’s concentration and daily life. Facial pain and pressure, dental pain and even fever, along with foul smelling discharge are common symptoms as well.

Can untreated chronic sinusitis lead to complications?

Yes, there are certainly complications associated with untreated chronic sinusitis. One of the main effects of extended chronic sinusitis is poor sleep quality and difficulty breathing, which can have implications for heart health. Chronic sinusitis is easy to treat, and it must be treated.

What are the potential long-term consequences of ignoring chronic sinusitis?

As mentioned above, the potential long-term consequences of untreated chronic sinusitis can become dangerous. While most cases won’t get this bad, it’s important patients know about how potentially serious chronic sinusitis can become:

Persistent Symptoms

Untreated chronic sinusitis can lead to long-term effects such as nasal congestion, thick nasal discharge, facial pressure, and a reduced sense of smell. These ongoing symptoms can be quite debilitating, impacting daily life, sleep quality, and overall well-being.

Spreading Infection

In severe cases, the infection may spread to the surrounding areas, including the eyes and the brain. This can lead to serious complications such as vision problems, meningitis, or a brain abscess, although these are quite rare.

Aggravated Asthma or Bronchitis

Chronic sinusitis can exacerbate other respiratory conditions like asthma or bronchitis, leading to increased coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.

Nasal Polyps or Structural Changes

Ongoing inflammation may lead to the formation of nasal polyps – soft, non-cancerous growths in the nasal or sinus passages. These can cause further blockage and discomfort. In some cases, prolonged inflammation can also result in structural changes to the sinuses.

Impaired Quality of Life

Chronic sinusitis can have a significant negative impact on quality of life. Persistent symptoms can cause poor sleep, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. Moreover, the constant discomfort can lead to mood changes, including depression and anxiety.

Does untreated chronic sinusitis increase the risk of recurrent infections?

Yes, untreated chronic sinusitis can increase the risk of recurrent sinus infections. This is because blockages in the sinus caused by chronic sinusitis creates an environment conducive to bacterial growth, leading to repeated bacterial sinus infections. The inflamed and blocked sinuses have difficulty clearing out bacteria and other pathogens, allowing microbes to multiply and cause infection.

Additionally, the persistent inflammation associated with chronic sinusitis can damage the natural defense mechanisms of the sinuses and respiratory tract, further compromising the body’s ability to fight off these infections.

What are the potential complications of untreated chronic sinusitis in children?

The potential complications of untreated chronic sinusitis in children are similar to those in adults, but they might be more pronounced. For example, sleep deprivation caused by poor sleep quality can lead to more drastic behavioral changes in children. Moreover, the progression of chronic sinusitis can result in breathing through the mouth to compensate for the blocked nasal passage, which can lead to oral issues in children, such as changes in mouth and facial growth, gingivitis, and a greater risk of dental issues such as cavities in the teeth.

Can untreated chronic sinusitis affect your sense of smell and taste?

Absolutely, untreated chronic sinusitis can indeed affect your sense of smell and taste. The congestion caused by sinusitis obstructs the olfactory area in the upper part of the nasal cavity, which is responsible for our sense of smell. As a result, individuals with chronic sinusitis often report a decreased or absent sense of smell, a condition known as anosmia.

Are there any psychological effects of untreated chronic sinusitis?

Yes, untreated chronic sinusitis has hidden dangers, which can lead to several psychological effects due to ongoing discomfort, sleep disturbance, and reduced quality of life. These include:

Depression and Anxiety

The persistent physical discomfort and diminished sense of well-being associated with chronic sinusitis can lead to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Studies have shown that people with chronic sinusitis are at a higher risk of experiencing these psychological conditions.

Impaired Sleep and Fatigue

Chronic sinusitis can cause significant sleep disturbances, including difficulty falling asleep and frequent waking due to discomfort or difficulty breathing. Over time, this lack of quality sleep can result in chronic fatigue, which can affect mood, cognitive function, and overall mental health.

Decreased Quality of Life

The persistent symptoms and their impact on sleep, work, and social activities can greatly reduce a person’s quality of life. This can lead to feelings of frustration, social isolation, and decreased self-esteem.

Cognitive Dysfunction

There is emerging evidence that chronic sinusitis may impact cognitive function, potentially leading to issues with memory, attention, and processing speed.

Chronic Sinusitis Treatment in Carmel Valley, CA

Given the potentially serious consequences of untreated chronic sinusitis, it is important for individuals with the conditions to seek early intervention. Treatment can help manage the physical symptoms and also alleviate the associated psychological impacts. Moreover, mental health support, such as counseling or medication, may be beneficial for those experiencing significant psychological effects related to their chronic sinusitis.

Our clinic offers cutting-edge, minimally-invasive treatment options that can oftentimes be performed in the office, under local anesthesia or minimal sedation, which helps avoid more invasive surgery under anesthesia. Learn more about in-office balloon sinuplasty. If you or a loved one is suffering from chronic sinusitis, know that it is possible to reclaim your life. Dr. Schalch Lepe is a double board-certified otolaryngologist and sleep medicine specialist in San Diego who is dedicated to helping his patients lead lives they truly love. To learn more about your treatment options, call Dr. Lepe at (858) 925-5800 or book your consultation online. We proudly serve all of San Diego County, including La Jolla, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Del Mar, Coronado, Eastlake, Chula Vista, Solana Beach, Oceanside, Poway, Rancho Santa Fe, and Rancho Bernardo.