What is a sinus X-ray?

A sinus X-ray (or sinus series) is an imaging test that uses a small amount of radiation to visualize details of your sinuses. Sinuses are paired (right and left) air-filled pockets that circumscribe the nasal structures. The function of the sinuses is debated, but possibly include humidifying the air breathed through your nose and providing shape to your face.

There are four different pairs of sinuses:

  • Frontal sinuses: The right and left frontal sinuses are located over and around your eyes. Specifically, they’re situated near the center of your forehead just above each eye.
  • Maxillary sinuses: The maxillary sinuses are the largest of the sinuses. They’re positioned behind your cheekbones near your maxillae, or upper jaws.
  • Sphenoid sinuses: The sphenoid sinuses are located behind your skull, near your optic nerve and pituitary gland.
  • Ethmoid sinuses: These sinuses are situated between your eyes and the bridge of your nose. Ethmoid sinuses consist of a collection of 6 to 12 small air cells that open independently into your nasal passage. They’re divided into front, middle, and rear groups.

A sinus X-ray helps doctors detect problems with the sinuses. Sinuses are normally filled with air, so the passages will appear black on an X-ray of healthy sinuses. A gray or white area on an X-ray of the sinuses indicates a problem. This is most often due to inflammation or a buildup of fluid in the sinuses.

A sinus X-ray may also be called X-ray of the sinuses or paranasal sinus radiography. It’s a noninvasive test that can be completed quickly and with little discomfort or pain.

Your doctor will order a sinus X-ray if you’re experiencing symptoms of a sinus problem or sinusitis, also known as a sinus infection. Sinusitis occurs when your sinuses become inflamed, causing a buildup of pus and mucus in these cavities. The condition is usually caused by a bacterial infection that develops after a viral infection.

Symptoms of sinusitis include:

Sinusitis can either be acute or chronic.

Acute sinusitis typically lasts between one and two weeks. Infections that can cause acute sinusitis include viral infections, fungal infections, and bacterial infections. Sinusitis can also be triggered by:

Read more: Acute sinusitis »

Chronic sinusitis causes your sinuses to stay inflamed and infected for 12 weeks or longer. The condition can develop as a result of:

A sinus X-ray can also be used to detect other sinus problems, including a tumor or bleeding in your sinuses.

A sinus X-ray typically takes place at a hospital or medical laboratory. It may be performed on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in a hospital. No preparation is required. However, you’ll need to remove any jewelry or metal objects you may be wearing before the test. A radiologist or X-ray technician will perform the sinus X-ray.

You may be asked to sit or lie down on an X-ray table. The radiologist next places a lead apron over your torso to help protect you from radiation. They then place your head in line with the X-ray machine. You need to hold this position for a few moments while the X-ray image is being produced. The radiologist next steps behind a protective window to take the X-ray.

It’s important to remain as still as possible while the X-ray is being taken. Otherwise, the image will be blurred. It only takes a couple of seconds for the X-ray image to be completed. You may hear a clicking sound, similar to the sound a camera makes when taking a picture.

The radiologist may need to reposition you several times in order to get images of all your sinuses.

A sinus X-ray involves the use of radiation to create images of your body. While it uses relatively low amounts of radiation, there is still a risk every time your body is exposed to radiation. It’s important to notify your doctor about any medical tests you’ve had in the past. This will help your doctor make sure that you’re not overexposed to radiation.

It’s also vital to tell your doctor if you’re pregnant or think you might be pregnant, as radiation can cause birth defects. Your doctor may decide to order a different test or to use special measures to protect your baby from radiation.

Sinus X-rays are less invasive than other types of sinus tests, but they’re also less comprehensive. In most cases, a sinus X-ray will be one test performed in a series of tests. A sinus X-ray may indicate the presence of a sinus problem, but other sinus tests can help determine the specific cause of that problem.

These tests may include:

  • nasal endoscopy or rhinoscopy
  • blood tests
  • MRI or CT scan
  • sinus puncture and bacteria culture

The specific types of additional tests performed will vary depending on your particular situation. Speak with your doctor about the results of your sinus X-ray and next steps in the diagnostic process.