Sinusitis is a prevalent condition in Malaysia, and while its regular symptoms may include a loss in sense of smell, fatigue and headaches – these can largely also be mistaken for symptoms of COVID-19, especially as our nation battles the fourth wave.
While both sinusitis and COVID-19 affect the nasal passages of the body, there are ways to differentiate one from the other, and this begins with first understanding the two conditions.
“A significant number of patients with proven COVID-19 infection have developed loss of smell. In more serious cases, patients may experience shortness of breath when the disease has progressed to the lungs, resulting in pneumonia,” Sunway Medical Centre Velocity (SMCV) Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT), Head and Neck Surgeon consultant Dr Chai Chiun Kian said in a statement.
“In contrast, symptoms of sinusitis are typically centred around the nose and the throat, and rarely cause shortness of breath.”
Sinusitis is defined as an inflammation of the mucous membrane that lines the paranasal sinuses.
Recurrent sinusitis is caused by allergic rhinitis, where the sinus opening is blocked by mucus, polyps or mucosal swelling, or caused by structural abnormalities in the nose that affect the drainage of the sinuses, which include a deviated nasal septum, cleft palate and swollen adenoids.
Dr Chai said that both sinusitis and COVID-19 can cause fever, blocked nose, runny nose, headache and loss of smell – and stresses that the loss of smell or taste should raise a high index suspicion for COVID-19 instead.
Both conditions would require medical attention at varying degrees and should be attended to immediately.
However, if patients are still unable to differentiate the two, Dr Chai said that it was advisable for those affected to go for a COVID-19 test for confirmation.
He said once a patient has been diagnosed with sinusitis, early treatment is the best way to resolve it without additional complications.
“Common symptoms patients should be aware of include unusual nasal discharge, nasal congestion, facial pain in the forehead and cheek areas, or headaches.”
SMCV ENT Head and Neck Surgeon consultant Dr Tang Mee Ling said patients can keep their sinuses healthy by maintaining good ventilation and eliminating risk and environmental factors where possible such as air pollution, dust mites, and kick the smoking habit, if applicable.
“Steam inhalation and nasal saline irrigation may help to reduce nasal congestion and nasal discharge by hydrating the nasal cavity.
“Eating food highly seasoned with garlic can provide short term decongestant effect.
“To reduce facial pain, applying warm towel around the nose, cheek and eyes may provide a certain degree of pain relief.
“However, if nasal symptoms or fever persist, it is advisable to seek medical treatment early,” Dr Tang said.
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