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What is frontal sinusitis and what causes it?

Updated: Sep 18, 2018

Frontal sinusitis is inflammation or infection of the sinuses located just behind the eyes and in the forehead. The sinuses are a system of connected hollow cavities in the face that contain air and a thin layer of mucus. All sinuses produce mucus that moisturizes the airways and drains into the nasal passages.

If the frontal sinuses are inflamed or infected, they cannot drain mucus efficiently, and this can make breathing difficult. It can also lead to a feeling of increased pressure around the eyes and forehead.

When frontal sinusitis symptoms last for more than 4 weeks, but fewer than 12, the medical term for this is acute frontal sinusitis.

Causes of frontal sinusitis

Frontal sinusitis develops when certain germs make it past the body's natural defenses, or when other factors are responsible for inflammation.

The most common causes of frontal sinusitis are:

Infections caused by viruses, such as the common cold, often block the sinus airways. This increases the amount of mucus in the frontal sinuses, leading to pain and inflammation.

Viral infections of the upper respiratory tract can also lead to frontal sinusitis. A healthy adult may get a few viral infections of the upper respiratory system a year. A healthy child may get as many as six of these infections a year because the immune system is less developed in childhood.

Bacterial infection

Bacterial sinus infections last longer than viral infections in the area, and a person with a bacterial infection may require antibiotics.

In some cases, a bacterial infection follows a viral infection. This occurs when a person's immunity is lower after fighting the first infection, and the nasal and frontal sinuses are more vulnerable.

If an infection lasts longer than 10–14 days, it is more likely to be bacterial than viral.

Allergies (allergic rhinosinusitis)

Exposure to certain allergens, such as dust, pollen, and animal dander, can cause sneezing and itching, which can lead to inflammation and a buildup of mucus. This buildup can block the sinuses and prevent mucus from draining smoothly.

Allergies can often cause symptoms that are very similar to a frontal sinus infection. However, allergies require different treatments, so a correct diagnosis is important.

Deviated nasal septum

The nasal septum is a thin wall of tissue and cartilage that divides the nasal cavity in two. An ideal nasal septum divides the nasal cavity into equal-sized passageways.

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, 80 percent of people have a nasal septum that is off-center, but this is often hardly noticeable and does not affect how the nose works.

A deviated nasal septum becomes a problem when it regularly makes breathing difficult or causes other blockages. It may also increase the frequency of infections, such as frontal sinusitis.

Nasal polyps

A nasal polyp is a soft, painless growth on the inner lining of the nose or sinuses. Nasal polyps are linked with inflammation, and they affect 1–4 percent of adults in the United States. They may develop due to:

recurring infections

allergies to environmental irritants or medicines

chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma

In most cases, nasal polyps are harmless. However, a polyp can block or restrict the flow of air and mucus through the sinuses.

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