Ethmoid Sinusitis

Written by Janelle Martel | Published on June 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP

What is Ethmoid Sinusitis?

Ethmoid sinusitis refers to an infection that has developed in the ethmoid sinuses, which are located near the bridge of your nose. Sinuses are air-filled pockets located in your skull and facial bones. There are four sets of sinuses: maxillary, sphenoid, frontal and ethmoid. While the exact function of the sinuses is unknown, it is commonly accepted that they filter and humidify the air we breathe. The sinuses drain into the nose.

Sinusitis occurs when mucus gets backed up in your sinuses and they become infected. This is usually due to swelling of the nasal passages, which can be caused by upper respiratory infections or allergies.

An infection of the ethmoid sinuses can also affect the frontal and maxillary sinuses, which are located in the forehead and cheekbone. This is because the fluid from these sinuses needs to drain out through the ethmoid sinuses.

Sinusitis may also be called rhinosinusitis or nasal congestion.

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What Are the Causes of Ethmoid Sinusitis?

Conditions that affect the structure of the sinuses or the flow of nasal secretions can cause sinusitis. Causes of sinusitis include:

  • upper respiratory infection or common cold
  • allergies
  • deviated septum (when the wall of tissue that separates your nostrils is displaced to one side)
  • nasal polyps (noncancerous growths in the lining of your sinuses or nasal passages)
  • dental infections
  • enlarged adenoids (sections of tissue located behind your nasal cavity where your nose meets your throat)
  • swimming (water can block the flow of your nasal secretions)
  • exposure to secondhand smoke
  • trauma to the nose and face
  • foreign objects in the nose

Recognizing the Symptoms of Ethmoid Sinusitis

Ethmoid sinusitis tends to cause pain between the eyes and tenderness when touching the bridge of your nose. Sometimes, the area around your eyes will swell, especially upon waking.

However, even if your infection is in the ethmoid sinuses, you may not feel pain in this area. Many people with sinusitis feel pain throughout the face, regardless of which sinus the infection is actually located.

Other symptoms of sinusitis include:

  • facial swelling
  • runny nose lasting longer than seven to 10 days
  • thick nasal secretions
  • post-nasal drip (mucus that moves down the back of your throat)
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • bad breath
  • cough
  • decreased sense of smell and taste
  • fatigue
  • fever

How Is Ethmoid Sinusitis Diagnosed?

Usually, ethmoid sinusitis can be diagnosed based on your symptoms and an examination of your nasal passages. Your doctor will use a special light called an otoscope to look up your nose and in your ears for evidence of a sinus infection. The doctor may also take your temperature, listen to your lung sounds, and examine your throat.

If your doctor notices thick nasal secretions, he or she may use a swab to take a sample. This sample will be sent to a lab to check for evidence of a bacterial infection. Your doctor may also order blood tests to check for evidence of infection.

Sometimes, doctors will order imaging tests to check for sinusitis and to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms. X-rays of your sinuses can help identify any blockages. A computerized tomography (CT) scan, which provides much more detail than an X-ray, can also be used to check for blockages, masses or growths, and infection.

Your doctor may also use an endoscope (a small tube fitted with a camera) to check for blockages in your nasal passages.

Treating Ethmoid Sinusitis

Treatment for ethmoid sinusitis involves treating the infection and easing your symptoms. Treatment varies depending on the severity of your symptoms and the cause of your sinusitis.

Ethmoid sinusitis treatment may include:

  • over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin
  • steroid nasal drops, such as fluticasone (Flonase)
  • antibiotics, such as amoxicillin or azithromycin (Zithromax)
  • decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
  • nasal irrigation (using a saline solution to flush out your sinuses)
  • warm compress
  • inhaling steam
  • oral steroids

Ethmoid sinusitis usually improves with these treatments. However, if these techniques are not successful, surgery is an option. Sinus surgery may involve removing damaged tissue, widening your nasal passages, and correcting anatomical abnormalities, such as nasal polyps or a deviated septum.

Preventing Ethmoid Sinusitis

Keeping your nasal passages clear can help to prevent sinusitis. These methods may also be helpful for allergy sufferers. Prevention methods include:

  • nasal irrigation
  • staying hydrated
  • inhaling steam to cleanse the nasal passages
  • using a humidifier, especially in dry environments
  • using saline drops to keep nasal passages moist
  • sleeping with your head elevated
  • avoiding blowing your nose too often
  • blowing your nose gently when necessary
  • avoiding antihistamines, unless directed by your doctor
  • avoiding the overuse of decongestants

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