Evaluating Your Sinuses: History and Exam

Healthcare provider preparing to insert endoscope into woman’s nose.

The sinuses are hollow areas formed by the bones of the face. They help keep the nasal passages moist and free of dust and germs. If you have a sinus problem, you may need an evaluation. This helps a healthcare provider find out what is causing the problem. It is most often done by an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT or otolaryngologist).

Health history

You will be asked about your health history. Explain your symptoms. Tell your healthcare provider how long you have had the symptoms and what treatments you have used. Tell your provider what makes the symptoms get better and what makes them get worse. Mention other health problems you have. Mention if you take medicines. These can include herbs or other supplements. You may be asked about signs of common problems of the sinuses. These can include:

  • Signs of a sinus infection. These can include long-term (chronic) yellow or greenish drainage and a decreased sense of smell.

  • Signs of nasal allergies. These can include sneezing, and red or itchy eyes or nose.

  • Signs of nasal blockage (obstruction). This can include needing to breathe through your mouth or nose on one side only.

Physical exam

During the exam, the healthcare provider looks into your ears and throat. Your nose will be checked for problems. These can include a deviated septum, polyps, or infection. You may also have an endoscopic exam. The provider uses a thin, lighted tube (endoscope) to see inside your nose and the sinuses. He or she will first put a numbing medicine and a decongestant in your nose and sinuses. The provider will then put the endoscope into your nose. If problems are found, the provider will work with you to plan treatment.

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