What do we mean when we have a “sinus infection?”

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Introduction: Sinus infections are a common reason patients seek medical care. However, the intended meaning of the term sinus infection among patients and otolaryngologists is incompletely understood. Methods: In this multi-institutional cross-sectional study, a semantics-based questionnaire was provided to consecutive patients presenting to otolaryngology clinics at six academic centers from June 2020 until May 2021. The primary outcome was respondent definitions for sinus infection from a list of 28 proposed terms covering six general categories. Secondary outcome measures included differences between geographic regions. Results: Responses were obtained from 560 patients (54% female, mean age 48.9 years) and 29 otolaryngologists (42% female, mean age 37.4 years). Patients and otolaryngologists selected a median of 10 and 11 terms, respectively, to define a sinus infection. Among patients the most frequently selected symptom categories were mucus (500, 89.3%), pressure/pain (480, 85.7%), and airflow (468, 83.6%). Compared to patients, clinicians selected with greater frequency the symptom categories of pressure/pain (14.3% difference; 95% CI, 7.6% to 22.5%), mucus (10.7% difference; 95% CI, 4.7% to 18.3%) and airflow (13.0% difference; 95% CI, 4.8% to 21.7%). Multiple categories were selected by 96% of patients and 100% of providers. Conclusion: The definition of sinus infection appears variable for both patients and otolaryngologists, though patients appear to apply a broader range of symptoms to the term sinus infection. There were no pronounced geographic differences in the description of a sinus infection in this US sample population. Patients commonly described sinus infection in the context of pain-related symptoms. Appreciation of these semantic differences may enable more effective patient-clinician communication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-139
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Forum of Allergy and Rhinology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • disease severity
  • paranasal sinus diseases
  • sinusitis


Dive into the research topics of 'What do we mean when we have a “sinus infection?”'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this