17 July 2017

Smoking damage to sinuses can last 10 years

New research has found that smoking-related sinus pain, swelling and inflammation are reversible.

While we are familiar with the negative effects smoking has on the body, many South Africans continue to use tobacco.

According to a South African Medical Journal article (2015), 17.6% of all South African adults smoke tobacco, with a higher prevalence of male smokers. Smoking can wreak havoc on your sinuses, and new research shows that it takes a decade for symptoms to reverse after quitting.

New motivation to quit

Sinusitis is the inflammation of the nasal passages. It is a common condition that affects at least 30% of the population at some stage of their lives. While people prone to allergies and some physical traits such as a deviated septum are prone to sinusitis, tobacco smokers are at risk for sinusitis because tobacco irritates the nasal passages and lowers the body's natural resistance. 

Researchers believe the findings of the study may provide new motivation for smokers to stop smoking. "If patients tell me that they are smoking, I now have direct evidence to say that the same symptoms that are making them miserable are exacerbated further by smoking," said senior study author Dr Ahmad Sedaghat, a sinus surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

"On the other hand, we can also be optimistic, because we have evidence to suggest that if you quit smoking, things will get better, on the order of 10 years," he added in a hospital news release. Sedaghat is also an assistant professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School.

smoking causes risk for sinusitis

Chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) leads to facial pain, poor sleep and trouble breathing due to blocked nasal and sinus passages, according to researchers. Smoking can leave the lining of the nose less able to clear mucus. It can also irritate sinus passages, causing swelling and inflammation as well as changes in the healthy mix of bacteria inside the nose.

Smokers have worse symptoms

Researchers assessed the severity of symptoms and medication use among 103 former smokers with CRS and 103 people who had never smoked but also had CRS. They found smokers had worse symptoms and used more antibiotics and oral corticosteroids to treat sinus infections and reduce inflammation than nonsmokers.

But the study, published online in Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, also found that symptoms among former smokers improved steadily over a decade. "We very consistently saw that all of our metrics for the severity of CRS decreased to the levels of nonsmoking CRS patients over about 10 years, with the severity of symptoms, medication usage and quality-of-life improving steadily over that timeframe," said Sedaghat.

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