Ethmoid sinusitis is the inflammation of a specific group of sinuses — the ethmoid sinuses — which sit between the nose and eyes.

The ethmoid sinuses are hollow spaces in the bones around the nose. They have a lining of mucus to help prevent the nose from drying out. Inflammation of the ethmoid sinuses can lead to pressure and pain around the nose and between the eyes.

In this article, we look at the causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of ethmoid sinusitis and when to see a doctor. We also discuss how to treat and prevent ethmoid sinusitis.

a woman blowing her nose because she has ethmoid sinusitisShare on Pinterest
A person with ethmoid sinusitis may experience a runny or blocked nose.

The mucous lining of the sinuses traps dust, germs, and pollutants. When the sinuses become inflamed, the mucus cannot flow normally. Tissue swelling traps mucus in the sinuses, which can allow germs to grow.

In ethmoid sinusitis, this inflammation affects the ethmoid sinuses. People have four groups of sinuses, each of which can become inflamed:

The causes of ethmoid sinusitis will typically be similar to those of other forms of sinusitis. They may include:

  • a viral infection, including the common cold
  • seasonal allergies
  • smoking or secondhand smoke
  • a weakened immune system
  • the narrowing of the nasal passages due to nasal polyps

A person with ethmoid sinusitis may experience many symptoms common to all sinus infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these can include:

  • a runny nose
  • a blocked nose
  • pain around the face
  • a feeling of pressure around the face
  • headaches
  • mucus dripping down into the throat from the nose
  • a sore throat
  • a cough
  • bad breath

In addition, they may experience symptoms specific to ethmoid sinusitis because of the position of these sinuses near the eyes. These symptoms include a swollen, red, or painful eye.

Sinusitis can either be acute, meaning that a person has it for only a short time, or chronic, where it lasts for more than 12 weeks, even with treatment.

As with other types of sinusitis, the most common cause of ethmoid sinusitis is a virus, such as the common cold. In these cases, it will often resolve without a person needing to see a doctor.

According to the CDC, a person should speak to a doctor if:

  • they have very intense symptoms, such as severe pain in the face or a severe headache
  • their symptoms get better but then get worse
  • their symptoms do not get better over more than 10 days
  • they have a fever for more than 3–4 days

When diagnosing ethmoid sinusitis, a doctor will ask the person how they have been feeling and carry out a physical examination to look for the characteristic signs and symptoms of sinusitis. These may include:

  • congestion, obstruction, or blockage in and around the nose
  • significant amounts of mucus in the nose
  • facial pressure or pain

The doctor may also look into the person’s nose, throat, or ears for visible signs of inflammation. After this examination, if the doctor is not certain about the correct diagnosis, they may also insert a thin tube with a light and a camera on the end into the nose to examine the sinus tissues.

Occasionally, a doctor may recommend an X-ray or a CT scan to determine the likely cause of the person’s symptoms.

According to the CDC, a person’s sinus infection will usually get better on its own. However, if a doctor suspects a bacterial infection, they may prescribe antibiotics.

The doctor may also prescribe:

  • decongestants to help drain the sinuses
  • antihistamines to reduce inflammation resulting from an allergic reaction
  • nasal steroids to reduce inflammation in and around the nose
  • saline nasal sprays, which increase moisture in the nose
  • pain relievers, if a person’s sinusitis is causing a lot of pain

The CDC also note that home remedies may help some people. They recommend putting a warm compress over the affected area or breathing in steam from a bowl of hot water or a shower.

Read more about how to treat sinus infections here.

People can often prevent sinus infections by taking steps to stay healthy and to help others stay healthy. These include:

  • practicing good hand hygiene
  • getting the recommended vaccines, such as the flu and pneumococcal vaccines
  • avoiding contact with people who currently have an upper respiratory infection, including a cold
  • avoiding smoke and secondhand smoke
  • using a clean humidifier at home to add moisture to the air

Most people should find that ethmoid sinusitis resolves on its own with some basic self-care and home remedies. If a doctor thinks that ethmoid sinusitis is due to a bacterial infection, they may prescribe antibiotics, which are usually very effective.

According to an article in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, if nasal polyps or a problem with the structure of a person’s nasal passage is causing their ethmoid sinusitis, they may require surgery to reduce the likelihood of their ethmoid sinusitis reoccurring.

People may wish to see their doctor for more information about the causes, treatment, and prevention of sinusitis, particularly if the condition is chronic.