Lifewatch: Chronic Sinusitis

Reported by Claire Hosmann - email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

(WECT) - 16 million Americans suffer from chronic sinusitis, and if they don't get treated quickly it can turn into a dangerous infection.

Now, a new blood test is making it easier to get on a fast track to feeling better.

Artist Cindy Epps believes the beauty of her paintings is in the details, but chronic sinusitis turned her world into a blur.

"My head hurt. My face hurt. It's hard to be able to focus on something beautiful and creating and doing something like that when you feel miserable like that," said Epps.

Diagnosis can be difficult because the infection can have so many causes, but a new blood test is clearing up confusion.

"Using a drop of blood, we are able to tell who are the individuals that have chronic sinus problems," said Dr. Stilianos Kountakis.

The test measures specific proteins in the blood linked to chronic sinusitis.  In a study of more than 100 people, the blood test was able to identify those who had the condition even if they hd no symptoms.

"It's a more objective test," said Kountakis.  "Also, we can determine the type of sinusitis that the patient has."

The test allows doctors to give patients the correct medications sooner and tailor the treatment to a person's blood profile.

After months of suffering, Cindy found the right treatment routine, allowing her creativity to shine through.

The National Institute of Health says in rare cases untreated sinus infections can lead to brain infection.

There is no cure for chronic sinusitis, just careful monitoring and management with medication.

For more information, please contact:
Tony Baker, Public Relations
Medical College of Georgia
(706) 721-4421

BACKGROUND: Sinusitis, or a sinus infection, is swelling of the sinuses, or air-filled spaces behind the forehead, cheeks and eyes. When it continues for a long time or is recurrent, the condition is called chronic sinusitis. The Centers for Disease Control says 14 percent of people across the nation suffer from this prolonged form of the condition. The most common causes of sinusitis are allergies or infection. Because each sinus opens into the nose and is joined to nasal passages by a continuous mucous membrane lining, anything that causes swelling in the nose, like an allergic reaction or infection, can also affect your sinuses. What causes the characteristic swelling of the sinuses is air, pus or other fluid that becomes trapped in the sinuses.

SYMPTOMS: The University of Maryland Medical Center says the following symptoms may point to sinusitis: severe headache; pain or pressure in certain areas of the face; red, bulging or painful eyes; a persistent cough; fever; fatigue; and lack of response to decongestants or antihistamines. Other symptoms include a sore throat and thick, yellow nasal discharge. The National Institutes of Health says in rare cases, an untreated sinus infection can lead to a brain infection.

DETECTION AND TREATMENT: Because the symptoms of sinusitis are similar to a cold or an allergy, diagnosis is sometimes tedious. Looking for signs of a sinus infection begins with a physical examination of the nasal tissues. When symptoms are vague, doctors may order a CT scan. If a sinusitis patient does not respond to treatment, doctors may order laboratory tests, such as blood tests, sweat tests, nasal fluid tests and biopsies of nasal linings or sinuses, to rule out other conditions.

Treating chronic sinusitis can be just as complex as diagnosing it. Antibiotics are the main weapon used to fight the condition. The type that's prescribed depends on many factors including patient allergies, sinus culture results and the most likely type of bacterium causing the infection. The American Rhinologic Society says other medications that may be prescribed include oral decongestants, mucus-thinning drugs, topical steroids for the nose, systemic steroids like prednisone and nasal saline washes. Treatment of acute sinusitis is usually prescribed for a few days. For chronic sinusitis, treatment can last for up to eight to 12 weeks.

CLEARING THE CONFUSION: Because chronic sinusitis can be complicated to diagnose and difficult to track, researchers have developed a new way to do both using a simple blood test.  After blood samples are taken, scientists analyze protein expression in the blood using a technology called surface-enhanced laser/desorption ionization time-of-flight mass pectroscopy, or SELDI-TOF-MS. The technology can quickly identify unique protein profiles of conditions like sinusitis. The protein profiles act like fingerprints found in the body. In the study, researchers found the technique detected protein profiles involving patients with chronic sinusitis and separated them from healthy patients with 77.1 percent sensitivity and 65.8 percent specificity. Experts hope to eventually use SELDI-TOF-MS to assist in the identification of breast, lung, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancer.