Rhinosinusitis (“sinusitis”), which causes pain, pressure, and congestion in the sinus cavities, is commonly associated with asthma. However, while it’s possible to experience both inflammatory conditions at once, it’s not clear whether one causes the other.
Keep reading to learn more about the link between sinusitis and asthma, including symptoms and treatment options you can discuss further with a doctor.
Sinusitis doesn’t directly cause asthma. However, there is a possibility that sinusitis can worsen the symptoms of this lung disease.
Allergies and allergic rhinitis can also lead to swelling in your sinuses, thereby causing congestion because the sinuses cannot drain as they should.
While sinusitis and allergic rhinitis are common comorbidities with asthma, current research is inconclusive on what the exact connection is. However, some studies have found connections between asthma with hypersensitivity to aspirin and the development of chronic sinusitis with nasal polyps.
Another consideration is allergic asthma and its role in both sinusitis and asthma symptoms. Allergic asthma refers to asthma symptoms and attacks that may develop as a result of allergies. Common allergens involved in allergic asthma include dust, pollen, and animal dander.
Additionally, sinus infections, as well as flu and cold viruses,
Your sinuses consist of cavities that go through the cheekbones, behind the nose, and around the eyes. They help filter the air inside your nasal cavity while also keeping it warm and moist. Sinusitis causes your sinuses to become infected, which can cause a variety of symptoms.
Common symptoms of sinusitis include:
- nasal congestion
- pain and pressure in your forehead and cheeks
- postnasal drip, which may also taste bad
- thick, colored nasal discharge
- fever (in acute cases only)
Acute sinusitis typically develops after a cold or flu and is defined by symptoms lasting less than 4 weeks. It’s also sometimes called a sinus infection. However, symptoms of this type of sinusitis usually last 7 to 10 days.
If you have three or more episodes of acute sinusitis per year, you may have recurrent sinusitis.
Sinusitis and asthma-like symptoms
While sinusitis and asthma are both inflammatory conditions, the related inflammation involves different parts of the body. Sinusitis involves inflammation of the sinuses, while asthma involves inflammation of the airways.
The most common asthma symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
- difficulty breathing
- chest tightness
However, it’s possible to experience a cough with both sinusitis and asthma. Postnasal drip from the sinus cavities can cause coughing, while mucus buildup in the airways may lead to coughing in asthma. Postnasal drip can also trigger asthma symptoms.
You may also experience similarities in symptoms if you have allergic asthma. Both can cause nasal congestion, while also keeping your nose blocked at night when you’re trying to sleep.
Other allergy symptoms you may experience with allergic asthma include:
- runny nose
- itchy eyes, nose, and throat
- watery eyes
- dark undereye circles
Can sinusitis cause shortness of breath?
Sinusitis itself doesn’t cause shortness of breath as asthma can. However, a sinus infection can lead to postnasal drip, which may make certain asthma symptoms worse. These symptoms include coughing (especially at night), wheezing, and other breathing difficulties.
Treating both sinusitis and asthma may involve a combination of the following types of medications:
- antihistamines for allergies
- decongestants to alleviate nasal congestion
- inhaled steroid medications
- steroid nasal sprays
- leukotriene modifiers for allergic asthma
- allergy shots (immunotherapy)
- short-acting or long-acting bronchodilators to help relax airways and reduce asthma symptoms
- oral steroids to help reduce both nasal and airway inflammation (in severe cases only)
In the case of acute sinusitis, antibiotics may be required if it’s caused by a bacterial infection. However, antibiotics aren’t helpful in treating chronic sinusitis.
The best decongestants for asthmatics
Decongestants work by reducing nasal congestion which can lead to stuffiness, pain, and infections. These are often used to help treat acute illnesses, such as colds, but may also be used as long-term treatments for sinusitis and allergies.
If you have sinusitis and allergic asthma, a doctor may recommend starting with an over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant first. A prescription formula may be recommended if your symptoms aren’t getting better with an OTC decongestant.
Oral decongestants typically contain pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine that work by reducing blood vessel swelling in your nasal passages.
Decongestants may also come in the form of nasal sprays that contain oxymetazoline. However, you shouldn’t use these for more than 3 days at a time, as these are associated with rebound congestion.
If you’re currently taking any other medication for allergies, asthma, or another condition, it’s important to talk with a doctor before trying decongestants as these may interact with each other. Also ask your doctor before taking decongestants if you have high blood pressure, as there could be complications.
Sinusitis occurs as a result of inflammation in the sinuses, while asthma involves inflammation in your airways. However, having asthma may increase your risk of developing chronic sinusitis — especially if you have allergic rhinitis.
While the exact connections aren’t clear, there are treatment options available for both sinusitis and asthma — with the goal to help reduce nasal congestion and related symptoms that can also help decrease breathing issues.
Talk with a doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of sinusitis, such as ongoing nasal congestion and pain. It’s important to address recurring and chronic sinusitis, even if you already take medications for asthma.