Minding the Body

The guide to health and happiness

Chronic Sinus Problems Are Linked to Depression

Your sinus health and your mental health are intertwined.

headache sufferer
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A stuffy nose that lasts for months is enough to get anyone a little down. Still, it’s surprising to discover that depression affects as many as one-fourth of people with chronic sinusitis—long-lasting inflammation of the sinuses. That’s a lot of distress for an illness that many people consider a minor nuisance rather than a major threat.

What’s the connection between your sinus health and your mental health? Here’s what recent research shows.

Sinus Problems Get You Down

Many sinusitis sufferers will tell you that it’s not such a minor blip after all. Chronic sinusitis may cause long-term nasal stuffiness, thick nasal discharge, a reduced sense of smell, and a feeling of pain or pressure around the eyes, nose, or forehead. Other possible symptoms include postnasal drip, coughing at night, ear fullness, jaw aches, sore throat, bad breath, and tiredness.

Together, these symptoms may trigger or worsen depression in several ways:

  • As the weeks drag on, the discomfort may take a toll. If you’re prone to depression, the added stress may make it worse.
  • Many people with chronic sinusitis have allergies. Studies show that allergies and depression may be linked, most likely through inflammation-promoting immune substances that are released during an allergy attack.
  • Sleep problems are common in people with chronic sinusitis, and lack of good-quality sleep may further wreck your mood.

Depression Is a Pain in the Sinus

Once you’re depressed, everything in your life may seem bleaker and harder to manage—and that includes your sinus symptoms. Studies have shown that depression may amplify sinus-related problems in a number of ways:

  • People with chronic sinusitis who are depressed report having worse sinus pain than those who aren’t depressed. They also say they have less energy and more trouble with daily activities—classic symptoms of depression.
  • In people with chronic sinusitis, depression is associated with more missed workdays, increased antibiotic use, and more doctor visits.
  • In chronic sinusitis patients, scores on depression and anxiety scales are strongly associated with scores on the aptly named SNOT-22—a questionnaire that includes both disease-specific questions and general quality-of-life questions.

When you have both chronic sinusitis and full-blown depression, each can fuel the other, making the symptoms worse. So treating just one condition or the other may not bring complete relief. To feel your best, you may need to seek professional diagnosis and treatment for both conditions.

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a writer who specializes in health, psychology, and the intersection between the two. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a health writer with a master's degree in health psychology.

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