Many people hear the words “sinus pain” on television, in ads for pain medication, but surprisingly few really understand what the sinuses are, and what role they play in the body. To many, “sinus pain” is just another word for “headache”. In reality, it’s much more complicated than that.

The word ‘sinus’ is from Latin, and it means “a bent or curved surface”. In both humans and animals, sinuses are hollow pockets of air inside the skull, protected by bone. We have eight separate sinuses in our faces, two in the forehead, two between the eyes, two under the cheeks, and two behind the nose. These pockets begin to form before birth, and serve a variety of purposes, not all of which are known.

Some proposed purposes are:

  • Provides a buffer against blows to the face
  • Increases vocal resonance
  • Insulates eyes and teeth from sudden temperature changes
  • Regulation of intranasal gas pressure
  • Immunological defense

This last usage is the one we’re most familiar with: the sinuses are where your body produces mucus to clear bacteria or harmful particles from your air passages.

However, because these air pockets are warm and moist, they provide extremely fertile breeding ground for bacteria if anything goes wrong with your mucus drainage. After all, mucus can only trap bacteria for so long; if you don’t expel it from your body, it’s still going to be in there!

This is why one of the primary symptoms of many sicknesses is increased mucus production. Your body is trying to rid itself of all of the things that are causing illness.

Since your sinuses play such a vital role in your body’s defense, it’s important to keep them in good, working condition. If you have any problems that you suspect may relate to your sinuses, consult your local Atlanta ENT specialist about getting your body’s defenses back in shape!

Ramie Tritt, MD, President, Atlanta ENT