Asthma, Sinusitis: A Connection?

Asthma and sinusitis may be linked. People who have asthma are more likely to suffer from chronic sinusitis.

By Lucy Casale, Contributing Writer

If you have moderate to severe asthma, you may also be at risk for chronic sinusitis. In fact, most people with moderate to severe asthma have chronic sinusitis. And about 20 to 30 percent of people with chronic sinusitis have asthma. This phenomenon has researchers looking for a link between the two.

With asthma, the airways in your lungs are constantly inflamed. When something triggers your symptoms, these airways swell up. The muscles around them tighten. This makes it harder for you to breathe.

An asthma flare-up or attack symptoms may include:

Asthma symptoms are often triggered by allergies and exposure to allergens. Mold and dust mites are allergens. So are pet dander and pollen. Among other non-allergic triggers, smoke and air pollution might cause asthma symptoms. Sinus infections may also lead to asthma attacks.

There are several types of sinusitis. Acute and chronic are the most common types. Acute sinusitis often starts as a result of the common cold. With treatment, symptoms typically should go away within two weeks, though they may last up to four weeks. With chronic sinusitis, symptoms last more than 12 weeks. In fact, symptoms might continue for months or even years. People with asthma are more likely to suffer from chronic sinusitis.

When you have a sinus infection, or sinusitis, your paranasal sinuses are inflamed. These sinuses are made up of four pairs of cavities, or air-filled spaces. You have one pair over your eyes in your brow area. Another pair is inside each cheekbone. A third pair is between your eyes behind the bridge of your nose. Your last pair is in the upper region of your nose, behind your eyes. Sinusitis can be caused by allergic reactions or from infections — viral, bacterial or even fungal.

Sinusitis symptoms may include:

More often in acute sinusitis, the symptoms may also include:

Often called “chronic rhinosinusitis” by most health experts, the cause of this type of sinusitis is largely unknown. But there are conditions that may raise your risk for it. These include pre-existing health conditions and recurring acute sinusitis. Allergies and asthma can also increase your risk.

A link between these two conditions?
Doctors recognize a connection between chronic sinusitis and asthma. But the reason behind it is controversial. Researchers have suggested that they may be the same disease. Asthma and chronic sinusitis just occur in different parts of the respiratory system.

They have also wondered if allergies play a role. Because chronic sinusitis often occurs in people with asthma, many of whom also have allergies, airborne allergens may be the problem. However, at least half of all people with chronic sinusitis do not have allergies.

One recent study adds more questions to the mix. Although it doesn’t explain the asthma-sinusitis connection, the study showed a significant correlation between the severities of these diseases. For example, the more severe asthma you may have, the more severe sinusitis you may have. For the present, research continues.

Preventive measures
Chronic sinusitis is often difficult to treat successfully. And there is no cure for asthma. However, talk with your doctor about the number of options you have to manage the symptoms of each. Options for chronic sinusitis include medications and possibly surgery.

If you are suffering from both conditions, appropriate treatment of your sinusitis may improve your asthma symptoms.

Although there are no proven methods that prevent sinusitis, consider the following: