Layperson Perception of Symptoms Caused by the Sinuses

Charles A. Riley, Christian P. Soneru, Alvaro Navarro, Lily Trinh, Waleed M. Abuzeid, Ian M. Humphreys, Nadeem A. Akbar, Sharan Shah, Jivianne T. Lee, Tara J. Wu, John S. Schneider, Edward D. McCoul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To assess the perceived symptoms caused by the sinuses as defined by otolaryngology patients and clinicians. Study Design: Multi-institutional cross-sectional study. Setting: Six academic outpatient otolaryngology practices. Methods: We performed a multi-institutional, cross-sectional study using a semantics-based questionnaire. Consecutive patients were enrolled at 6 academic otolaryngology centers from June 2020 to May 2021. The primary outcome examined patient and provider definitions for the symptoms caused by the sinuses from a list of 28 proposed terms covering 6 general categories. These data were also collected from otolaryngology faculty at the same institutions. Results: Responses were obtained from 451 patients (54% female, mean age 48.3 years) and 29 otolaryngologists (38% female, mean age 37.4 years). Patients selected a median of 12 terms, compared to 8.5 for otolaryngologists. Among patients, the most frequently selected symptom domains were mucus (419, 92.9%), airflow (412, 91.4%), and pain (389, 86.3%). Compared to clinicians, patients more frequently selected symptoms related to the ear (difference, 48.3%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 34.8%-59.3%), throat (difference, 35.7%, 95% CI, 22.0%-47.5%), systemic (difference, 34.4%, 95% CI, 21.2%-46.0%), mucus (difference, 20.5%, 95% CI, 10.2%-30.6%), and airflow domains (difference, 19.0%, 95% CI, 8.4%-29.3%). Multiple domains were selected by 98% of patients and 79% of providers. Conclusion: Semantic differences exist between patients and clinicians regarding the symptoms caused by the sinus with patients having a broader range of perceived symptoms. These differences may provide clues to improve communication between otolaryngologists and their patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1038-1046
Number of pages9
JournalOtolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery (United States)
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2023


  • health literacy
  • hermeneutics
  • infection
  • sinusitis


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