An estimated 35 million Americans suffer from sinusitis, a condition which causes inflammation of the nose and sinuses. Its symptoms include congestion, pain, a loss of smell and, in severe cases, nasal polyps that exacerbate symptoms.
While standard treatment such as antibiotics and nasal sprays have been proven effective in treating short-term sinusitis (and in some cases patients improve on their own without treatment), but chronic sinusitis – which lasts 12 weeks or longer – is more difficult to treat. However, one method of treating chronic sinusitis that has had good results is the use of steroids such as prednisone.
What Is Sinusitis?
Sinusitis is an infection that results from a blockage in your sinuses, which are hollow cavities around your cheekbones, eyes, and behind your nose. The blockage prevents mucus – which filters the air your breath – from draining properly.
Acute sinusitis, which lasts less than four weeks, often begins as a common cold. Symptoms may last for only a week or develop into a bacterial infection. People with asthma or allergic rhinitis are at a higher risk of suffering chronic sinusitis. Sinusitis may also be caused by a viral upper respiratory infection.
Sinusitis may be difficult to diagnose, particularly in its early stages, because its symptoms are similar to those of a cold or other viral illness. It can be particularly difficult to diagnose in children.
Most patients who take antibiotics for acute sinusitis that’s caused by a bacterial infection recover completely.
Prednisone: How It Helps
Prednisone is a corticosteroid that chronic sinusitis patients can either take orally or by an inhaled spray. Standard treatment with steroids begins with nasal spray and then moves on to a more powerful steroid pill if the spray isn’t effective. Prednisone is particularly helpful in reducing the inflammation of nasal polyps that may develop in chronic sinusitis sufferers.
What Studies Have Shown
A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that patients who suffered from chronic sinusitis and nasal polyps experienced a greater reduction in the size of their polyps – and a greater improvement in their sense of smell – than patients who were treated with steroid nasal sprays.
While oral steroids such as prednisone are effective in treating the inflammation of chronic sinusitis, doctors also caution that their use should be closely monitored because of potential side effects. Serious side effects include an increased risk for osteoporosis, insomnia, or a worsening of asthma. Patients at a higher risk for developing side effects include the elderly and postmenopausal women who receive lengthy oral steroid treatment for sinusitis.
In the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the authors said that – because of the potential for side effects – oral steroid therapy should only be used to treat chronic sinusitis after treatment with intranasal corticosteroids has been proven ineffective.
But relieving symptoms for good can mean that medication such as prednisone may need to be taken for several months, or longer. The side effects of nasal steroid sprays are usually much milder.
Studies have shown that oral steroids are effective in treating chronic sinusitis by, in part, reducing the swelling of membranes within the nasal passage, but it’s a treatment option that should be carefully monitored by your physician.