What Is Maxillary Sinus Disease?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Maxillary sinus disease affects the maxillary sinus, impacting diagnosis of orofacial pain.
  • Inflammation is the most common cause, often from viruses, bacteria, fungi, or dental infections.
  • Maxillary sinusitis has acute, subacute, and chronic clinical forms with varying symptoms.
  • Proper diagnosis and treatment of maxillary sinus disease requires assessing causes and anatomy.
  • Maintaining sinus health involves managing allergies, preventing infections, and addressing structural issues.

What is the maxillary sinus and how does its anatomy relate to maxillary sinus disease?

The maxillary sinus is one of the paranasal sinuses located within the maxillary bone near the cheeks. It is the largest of the paranasal sinuses and most relevant to dentistry, as issues here often manifest as orofacial pain requiring diagnosis.

Structurally, the maxillary sinus has a pyramid-like shape with its base oriented towards the lateral nasal wall and its apex extending into the zygomatic bone. The sinus is lined with respiratory epithelium and has a volume of approximately 15 ml.

The maxillary sinus derives its blood supply from the maxillary artery and is innervated by branches of the trigeminal nerve, specifically the superior alveolar nerves. Drainage occurs via the semilunar hiatus into the middle meatus of the nasal cavity.

Understanding the anatomy allows proper diagnosis of maxillary sinus disease. Orofacial pain complaints should prompt dentists to examine the maxillary sinus for issues like inflammation or infection. Proper treatment relies on assessing involvement of vital nearby structures.

What causes maxillary sinus disease?

Maxillary sinus disease refers to any condition affecting the function or health of the maxillary sinus. While specific diseases vary, inflammation is the most common overall cause of maxillary sinus disease.

The proximate causes of inflammation include:

  • Viruses – rhinovirus, influenza, etc.
  • Bacteria – Streptococcus, Haemophilus, etc.
  • Fungi – Aspergillus, Candida species
  • Allergies
  • Dental infections extending to the sinus
  • Problems with mucociliary clearance
  • Anatomical defects obstructing drainage
  • Trauma
  • Foreign bodies
  • Tumors – benign or malignant
  • Non-infectious inflammation like vasculitis

Any condition that irritates, damages, or compromises the mucosal lining can potentially lead to maxillary sinus disease. Proper diagnosis requires identifying the specific etiology.

What is maxillary sinusitis?

Maxillary sinusitis refers specifically to inflammation of the maxillary sinus mucosa. It is the most common form of maxillary sinus disease.

Maxillary sinusitis usually results from the following:

  • Viral infection – swelling obstructs ostia
  • Bacterial infection – pus accumulates in sinus
  • Fungal infection – fungus colonizes sinus
  • Allergic inflammation – mucosa swells due to allergens
  • Dental infection extension – bacteria enter through communication

Maxillary sinusitis clinically presents in three forms defined by duration of symptoms:

Acute Maxillary Sinusitis

  • Lasts less than 4 weeks
  • Starts as viral sinusitis, may become bacterial
  • Symptoms include facial pressure/pain, postnasal drip, congestion

Subacute Maxillary Sinusitis

  • Persists 4-12 weeks
  • Reflects incomplete resolution of acute infection
  • Requires antibiotic treatment

Chronic Maxillary Sinusitis

  • Lasts 12 weeks or longer
  • Underlying causes like anatomy, allergies, fungi
  • Symptoms constant, worsen suddenly (acute exacerbations)
  • May require surgery to improve sinus drainage

In maxillary sinusitis, impaired mucociliary clearance traps pathogens and irritants in the sinus, perpetuating inflammation. Prompt diagnosis and treatment helps prevent complications like ostial closure or infection spread.

How is maxillary sinus disease diagnosed?

Diagnosing maxillary sinus disease involves assessing symptoms, performing a clinical exam, and utilizing imaging studies.

Symptoms pointing to maxillary sinus disease include:

  • Facial pressure/pain – often unilateral
  • Congestion
  • Purulent discharge – may drain into throat
  • Halitosis
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Headache – often focused in forehead

The physical exam inspects the oral cavity for swelling, discharge, and dental causes. Palpating for facial tenderness also helps localize sinus involvement.

Definitive diagnosis requires imaging like:

  • Radiographs – Waters view visualizes maxillary sinus
  • CT scans – detailed sinus anatomy and pathology
  • MRI – evaluates soft tissue and bone infection
  • Endoscopy – directly visualizes sinus ostia patency

Culture and sensitivity testing can identify pathogenic organisms in chronic or serious cases. Histological analysis is sometimes needed to evaluate for tumor presence.

Overall, proper diagnosis involves a multifaceted approach to pinpoint the exact etiology behind maxillary sinus disease.

What are the best treatments for maxillary sinus disease?

Maxillary sinus disease treatment targets the specific cause and aims to resolve inflammation, promote drainage, eliminate infection, and prevent recurrence.

General treatment approaches include:

  • Restoring sinus ventilation and drainage via nasal saline irrigation, decongestants, antihistamines
  • Antibiotics for bacterial infections – Amoxicillin, cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones
  • Antifungals for fungal sinusitis – topical amphotericin B or oral itraconazole
  • Steroids to reduce mucosal swelling – oral prednisone, nasal sprays
  • Mucolytics to clear mucus obstruction – Guaifenesin
  • Pain management with NSAIDs, acetaminophen
  • Surgery for anatomical defects, sinus tumors – Endoscopic sinus surgery, Caldwell-Luc operation
  • Dental treatment of odontogenic infections – Root canal therapy, tooth extraction

Prompt initiation of appropriate medications promotes early resolution. Follow up endoscopy can confirm ostia patency. Daily sinus hygiene helps prevent recurrence.

What steps can you take to maintain sinus health and prevent maxillary sinus disease?

Preventing maxillary sinus disease involves:

  • Managing allergies – avoidance, antihistamines, immunotherapy
  • Preventing viral/bacterial infections with rest, hygiene, vaccination
  • Controlling underlying conditions like gastroesophageal reflux
  • Rapidly treating acute infections before they become chronic
  • Using medicated nasal irrigation for chronic sinus inflammation
  • Humidifying air to improve mucociliary clearance
  • Quitting smoking – smoke irritates sinonasal mucosa
  • Rinsing oral cavity after meals – prevents food particles entering sinus
  • Using oral appliances to keep airway open if snoring/sleep apnea present
  • Seeing dentist regularly to treat dental infections early
  • Getting immediate care for facial trauma to prevent deformity
  • Seeing an ENT if anatomical defects causing obstruction are suspected

Proper sinus care requires a multidimensional approach targeting every aspect that impacts sinus health. Staying vigilant for signs of sinus disease ensures early diagnosis and treatment.


In summary, maxillary sinus disease is a condition that affects the maxillary sinus and can be caused by a broad spectrum of disease processes. Maxillary sinusitis is a type of maxillary sinus disease that is caused by the inflammation of the paranasal sinuses due to various reasons, including direct extension of dental infection. Proper diagnosis and management of maxillary sinus disease requires understanding the anatomy and assessing causes through clinical evaluation and imaging. Maintaining sinus health involves managing infections, allergies, anatomical variations, and promptly treating any conditions affecting the maxillary sinus. With a coordinated approach, prevention of maxillary sinus disease is possible in most cases.

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