Ethmoid Sinusitis

What Is Ethmoid Sinusitis?

Sinuses are air-filled cavities in your head. You have four sets of them called

  • maxillary sinuses
  • sphenoid sinuses
  • frontal sinuses
  • ethmoid sinuses

Your ethmoid sinuses are located near the bridge of your nose.

Sinuses help to filter, clean, and humidify inspired air. They also keep your head from becoming too heavy. Ultimately, mucus that goes through the sinuses will drain to the nose.

Sinusitis occurs when mucus backs up in your sinuses and your sinuses become infected. This is usually due to swelling of the nasal passages. Upper respiratory infections or allergies can ultimately lead to ethmoid sinusitis. Other names for sinusitis include rhinosinusitis or nasal congestion.

What Are the Causes of Ethmoid Sinusitis?

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

  • an upper respiratory infection
  • a common cold
  • allergies
  • a deviated septum, which is when the wall of tissue that separates your nostrils is displaced to one side or the other
  • nasal polyps, which are noncancerous growths in the lining of your sinuses or nasal passages
  • a dental infection
  • enlarged adenoids, which are sections of tissue located behind your nasal cavity where your nose meets your throat
  • exposure to secondhand smoke
  • trauma to the nose and face
  • foreign objects in the nose

Recognizing the Symptoms of Ethmoid Sinusitis

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Because the ethmoid sinuses are close to the tear ducts in your eyes, you may notice more eye-related symptoms in this type of sinusitis compared to others. You may have pain between the eyes and tenderness when touching the bridge of your nose. Sometimes, the area around your eyes will swell, especially upon waking. As you stand up, your sinuses can better drain throughout the day to reduce this swelling.

Other symptoms of sinusitis include:

  • facial swelling
  • runny nose lasting longer than 10 days
  • thick nasal secretions
  • post-nasal drip, which is mucus that moves down the back of your throat
  • sinus headaches
  • sore throat
  • bad breath
  • cough
  • decreased sense of smell and taste
  • general fatigue or malaise
  • fever

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 is infected. Also, the frontal and maxillary sinuses drain into the ethmoid sinuses. If your ethmoid sinuses become blocked, the other sinuses can back up as well.

How Is Ethmoid Sinusitis Diagnosed?

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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, they might 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 CT scan, which provides much more detail than an X-ray, can also be used to check for blockages, masses, growths, and infection.

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

Treating Ethmoid Sinusitis

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Treatments for ethmoid sinusitis can require a varied approach that ranges from at-home treatments to surgery in the most severe circumstances.

Over-the-Counter Treatments

Over-the-counter pain relievers can help ease ethmoid sinusitis discomfort. Examples include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin. Steroid nasal sprays, such as fluticasone (Flonase), are also short-term solutions for a runny nose.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, decongestant and antihistamine treatments don’t typically ease ethmoid sinusitis symptoms. Antihistamines can thicken mucus in the nose, making it harder to drain.

Home Remedies

Some at-home remedies can also help ease sinus pain and pressure. These include applying warm compresses to your face. Inhaling steam in your shower at home can help. You can also boil water in a pan or pot and put a towel over your head as you lean forward to inhale the steam. Just be careful not to get too close to the pan to avoid steam burns.

Elevating your head when you sleep can also encourage proper nasal drainage. Staying hydrated, including drinking plenty of water, can help thin mucus. Irrigating your nasal passages with water also helps. An easy way to do this is to use a saline nasal spray a few times per day to keep your nasal passages moist.

Prescription Treatments

A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to reduce the amount of infection-causing bacteria. These may include amoxicillin, azithromycin (Zithromax), or erythromycin.

Surgical Interventions

Ethmoid sinusitis usually improves with the previously mentioned non-surgical treatments. However, if these treatments 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

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Keeping your nasal passages clear can help 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


Icon Outlook

Ethmoid sinusitis is an uncomfortable condition that can be treated as well as prevented. If sinusitis symptoms go on for more than a few days, a doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics to help the infection clear up more quickly. In rare instances, people with numerous infections associated with sinusitis may need surgery to correct any abnormalities. 

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