4 Nasal Changes That Cause Sinus Infections

Sinusitis occurs when the sinuses, cavities in your skull that are lined with tissue, become blocked or inflamed. The sinus cavities create mucous on a continual basis. Under normal circumstances, mucus from the sinuses drains into the nasal passageways or into the back of the throat.

When the sinus cavities are cut off from air and are unable to drain, an environment in which germs can grow and thrive is created. In many cases, especially those of acute sinusitis, the blockage is caused by swelling of nasal tissues and excess or thick mucus.

Acute sinusitis lasts four weeks or less. Chronic sinusitis lasts three months or more. Sometimes chronic sinusitis is not caused by mucus but by tissue that blocks off the sinus cavities and prevents them from draining. This might occur because:

  • Tissue is abnormally enlarged.
  • There is scar tissue in the sinuses or nasal passageways from surgery or injury.
  • Abnormal growths such as polyps are present.
  • An individual's inherited anatomy makes it difficult for the sinuses to drain,

When tissue blocks the sinuses it often results in chronic sinusitis rather than acute sinusitis and usually requires surgery to treat.

A woman suffering from sinus pain

Enlarged Tissues

Structures can directly interfere with normal drainage of the sinus cavities. Also, because the back of the throat, the nose, sinuses, and ears are all connected, some conditions, for example, ear infections or fluid in the ear, can be related to sinusitis. It is not uncommon for structures such as the adenoids or turbinates to become enlarged and contribute to sinusitis and other ear, nose, or throat problems.

When the adenoids become enlarged, they not only block the sinuses but often prevent the eustachian tube from draining as well. This can lead to ear infections or fluid in the ear. In this case, an adenoidectomy may be necessary to resolve ear and sinus issues.

The turbinates are part of the nasal passageways and work to warm and humidify the air we breathe. They can become enlarged and may need to be treated with medication or sometimes may need to be surgically reduced. Some people develop an air pocket in their middle turbinate called a concha bullosa, which can predispose them to sinus problems. Repairing the turbinates requires surgery.

Abnormal Growths

Nasal polyps can contribute to the development of sinusitis. Nasal polyps are masses of tissue that grow inside the nose and sometimes even in the sinuses. They are not cancerous and usually occur from inflammation. Some causes of inflammation are allergies or asthma, and ironically, sinusitis. Nasal polyps are usually surgically removed if they do not respond to medication.

Certain types of cancer may also cause growths that block the sinuses. However, this is rarer than other types of growths.

Deviated Septum

The septum consists of a piece of cartilage in the front and a bone in the rear that divides the nostrils. It's normally centered (or close to centered) but can be deviated to one side through birth defects or injuries such as a broken nose. People with a deviated septum are more likely to develop sinusitis. The maxillary sinuses are often involved. A septoplasty is a surgery where damaged portions of the septum are repaired and then the septum is realigned.


Inherited anatomical differences can make some people more prone to developing sinusitis. For example, petite facial features can cramp structures in the face and make it more difficult for the sinuses to drain. This occurs more often in children who naturally have smaller sinuses and nasal passageways. Certain birth defects or genetic syndromes that affect facial structures, for example, cleft palate and Down syndrome, can also increase the risk of sinusitis.

It's not uncommon for several of the above-mentioned conditions to occur simultaneously. In the United States, these structural abnormalities can often be fixed at the same time in a same-day surgery setting.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Battisti AS, Pangia J. Sinusitis. StatPearls.

  2. American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Sinus infection.

  3. Naclerio RM, Bachert C, Baraniuk JN. Pathophysiology of nasal congestionInt J Gen Med. 2010;3:47–57. doi:10.2147/ijgm.s8088

  4. Scheithauer MO. Surgery of the turbinates and "empty nose" syndromeGMS Curr Top Otorhinolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2010;9:Doc03. doi:10.3205/cto000067

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.