Can Chronic Sinus Infections Lead to Ear Infections?

If you are like most people, whenever you come down with a cold or congestion, you often feel a multitude of symptoms – from a stuffy nose to sinus pain. Another indicator of a respiratory infection you may have also experienced is pain or blockage in one or both ears which cause muffled hearing. This is also quite common – if not annoying – on top of the other symptoms you have to muddle through. In some cases, if the infection is not properly addressed, a secondary infection can show up in your ear even after your other symptoms have vanished.


As a matter of fact, your nose, sinuses, and ears are all connected. This connection involves a passage called the Eustachian tube. This tube runs between your nose and your middle ear and its function is to maintain pressure balance in your middle ear. Because your nose is also connected to your sinuses, all three parts are intertwined. In fact, the Eustachian tubes contain the same mucous membrane as your nose and throat. This is why ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors are very important! Colds and minor respiratory issues generally clear up within 1 or 2 weeks. However, if you are suffering from blocked passageways in your sinuses for a longer period, there may be steps you need to take to keep the illness and symptoms from worsening and possibly spreading to your ear(s).

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First and foremost, make sure that you are properly hydrated. Many doctors recommend drinking plenty of fluids, especially in the evening hours. While this can be inconvenient since it means a lot of bathroom trips during the night, water thins out your mucus so that you are not kept awake coughing. Water also flushes out your system of any toxins and impurities as well as any viruses that may be lurking around inside you.

In addition to your water intake, talk to your primary care physician. He or she may recommend oral or nasal decongestants which can help in clearing blockages in your sinuses.


If your symptoms do not respond to hydration and over-the-counter medication, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if a bacterial infection is suspected. If you have a problem with allergies, steroid medications may be necessary. If there is still no relief, your primary care physician may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor for a diagnosis.


Typically, if you experience congestion, blockage, and/or swelling for 12 weeks or more even after treatment, this is diagnosed as a chronic condition. If sinuses are involved, you may have chronic sinusitis, also known as chronic rhinosinusitis. There are several causes for chronic sinusitis which include infections, polyps (tear-shaped growths in your nasal cavity), or a deviated septum.

In severe chronic cases, doctors will usually consider every possible option before resorting to surgery. They will often prescribe maximum medical therapy which involves the treatments described earlier – steroid medication, sinus irrigation, and antibiotics before undergoing a CT scan. If the symptoms persist and surgery is the only option for correction and relief, then this treatment is performed.


Two very effective and non-invasive methods are Endoscopic Sinus Surgery and Balloon Sinuplasty. In both cases, an endoscope and light source is used. With endoscopic sinus surgery, a tiny camera attached to the endoscope sends high-resolution pictures of the nasal and sinus cavities to a high-definition monitor. Using CT scans as guides, the surgeon is able to navigate the nasal passages and sinus. If there any abnormal tissue growths or a deviated septum, these are removed or corrected.

When performing balloon sinuplasty, an endoscope is again used with a light in which a wire is inserted through the nasal passages toward the opening of the blocked sinus. After the surgeon determines the blockage location, a thin catheter and small balloon are guided along the wire to the opening of the blocked sinus. The balloon is then slowly inflated which dilates the sinus opening, allowing normal drainage.

Both surgeries take around 1 to 2 hours to perform under general anesthesia and no incisions are required. The patient is left with very little to no pain, swelling or bruising during recovery. In the event that the symptoms are not relieved, a combination of both procedures may be implemented.

While most sinusitis cases respond well to outpatient surgery, in more severe circumstances, open sinus surgery may be necessary for which an incision is required to allow proper drainage and/or access to unwanted growths for removal. These techniques are less common and only performed under complicated or serious conditions.


The advantages and disadvantages of sinus surgery are even on both sides. The pros are that the surgeries are effective in 85 to 90% of all cases. In the non-invasive surgery procedures, the patient experiences little to no pain during recovery and there are typically no complications. Additionally, these are outpatient treatments. The cons depend considerably on the patient’s diligence with their post-op care which is just as important as the surgery itself. Some possible complications can occur such as bleeding, infection, and loss of vision although the seriousness of this is extremely rare.


While there are many ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors available in the Hudson Valley, Dr. Ran Y. Rubinstein is the first and only ENT doctor specializing in allergic, nasal and sinus conditions in the region. He is one of the top facial and sinus surgeons in Hudson Valley and has been rated a 5-star doctor according to outstanding patient reviews. To inquire more about sinus issues, treatments and surgeries such as balloon sinuplasty in Hudson Valley, please contact Dr. Rubinstein.


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