The sphenoid sinuses are usually the smallest sinus cavities. They’re located just behind the nasopharynx, the passage that connects the back of the nose to the back of your mouth. Sphenoid sinusitis is an inflammation of the sphenoid sinuses. It can result from a variety of causes—including bacterial or viral infections, allergies, or autoimmune issues.
Infections are by far the most common cause. Because of the location of the sphenoid sinuses, this type of sinusitis is often very difficult to diagnose and treat. It can also be very dangerous. Like other sinus issues, encouraging sinus drainage is critical.
Sphenoid Sinusitis Symptoms
An estimated 3% of all sinusitis cases occur in the sphenoid sinuses. While the frequency of sphenoid sinusitis is low, these cases are often the most troubling because it’s difficult to drain these particular sinuses. Symptoms of this type of sinusitis include:
- Headache – A dull, persistent headache that doesn’t go away. This headache may occur near the nose and behind the eyes. You might feel it elsewhere because the nerves near the sphenoidal sinuses are closely connected to nerves in other parts of the head. Some patients report pain in the back of their heads near the base of the skull.
- No Fever – In most cases, patients do not experience a fever.
- No Runny Nose – Unlike most other sinusitis cases, a runny nose and post-nasal drip are not usually present. If you’re feeling significant sinus pressure but you don’t notice any drainage whatsoever, then infection of the sphenoid sinuses may be the cause.
If your doctor suspects that you have sphenoid sinusitis, she may order a CT scan to verify that the sphenoid sinuses are actually infected. This test may also show cysts or other obstructions.
Sphenoid Sinusitis Remedies
Like other types of sinusitis, promoting sinus drainage is critical. With this type of sinusitis it’s best to see a doctor sooner rather than later, but the following home remedies may help improve symptoms:
- Drinking Lots of Fluids – Staying hydrated will thin mucus and promote sinus drainage. Be sure to drink at least 8 glasses of water each day at a minimum.
- Over-the-Counter Medicines – Anti-inflammatory medicines and nasal decongestants like Sudafed can help reduce inflammation and promote sinus drainage. Look for the 12-hour or 24-hour varieties. They typically cost less per hour of relief than the 4- or 6-hour alternatives, and you don’t need to remember to take them as often. Be sure to read the instructions on the package and follow dosage directions carefully.
- Allergy Medicines – In some cases, sphenoid sinusitis may not be caused by infection at all, but rather by environmental allergies. Remember that it’s possible to develop allergies well past childhood. For example, I developed an allergy to dust in college even though I had never shown any allergy symptoms previously. Try taking over-the-counter allergy medicines like Allegra, Claritin or Zyrtec. If you suspect you may have a newly-developed allergy, see an allergist and get tested.
- Prescription Antibiotics – Doctors typically treat sphenoid sinusitis with antibiotics just like any other sinus infection. However in chronic cases, surgery may be necessary. This type of sinus surgery is considered relatively risky, so doctors will usually exhaust all other treatment options prior to recommending it.
[box type=”alert”]WARNING – This type of sinusitis can be very dangerous. The sphenoid sinuses are located near dozens of important structures, including the optic nerve. If you suspect you have this type of sinusitis, contact your doctor immediately.[/box]
A Note About Sinus Rinses
I often recommend sinus rinses for other types of sinusitis. Although performing a sinus rinse can work will to prevent sphenoid sinusitis from occurring in the first place, it may not work well to clear the sphenoid sinuses if they’ve become clogged. These sinuses are very hard to reach with a rinse. Sinus rinses are always worth a try, though.