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Sinus Infections Can Spread to Your Eyes

Woman Suffering in Sinusitis
If you suffer from chronic sinusitis, you can experience vision problems if the infection spreads to the eye socket. In some cases, this complication can lead to permanent vision loss. Therefore, it's important to recognize the symptoms of a severe sinus infection as well as learn more about the causes and potential risk factors.
Understand How Sinus Infections Occur
Your sinuses secrete excess mucus for a reason. Mucus traps bacteria, which helps to prevent bacteria from spreading to other parts of your body. But when the membranes lining the sinuses and inside of your nose become inflamed, the tissue swells.
While the mucus your body produces normally moves down your throat, when you're sick, bacteria can cause your mucus membranes to produce more mucus. The mucus may become thicker, and if your sinuses become blocked with fluid, the condition provides a prime breeding ground for infection-causing bacteria.
Know the Symptoms
Symptoms of chronic sinusitis include nasal inflammation and swelling that causes a thick, yellow-green nasal discharge or post-nasal drainage down the back of your throat. Colds and other upper respiratory tract infections — whether viral, bacterial, or fungal — can also inflame sinus membranes and block mucus drainage. Allergies also cause inflammation that can block your sinuses.
When infection occurs, the nasolacrimal tube — the duct that carries the tears from your eyes into the nasal cavity — may close, leading to watery eyes and blurred vision. Some individuals with sinus infection also report sore throat, cough, earache, pain in the teeth and upper jaw, nausea, and fatigue.
Be Aware of Potential Complications
While nasal congestion can make it hard to breathe through your nose, you may also have a reduced sense of smell and taste in addition to pain and swelling around the eyes. High fever, severe headache, and vision changes like double vision often signal a serious infection. Smokers and individuals with asthma, hay fever, and other immune system disorders have a higher risk of getting chronic sinusitis and the complications that can occur.
If you experience vision changes along with chronic sinusitis, contact your eye doctor or primary care physician, particularly if you have eye discharge and pain. Severe sinus infections can lead to orbital cellulitis — a bacterial or fungal infection that spreads from the surrounding sinuses to the tissue inside the eye socket.
Bacterial infection of the ethmoid sinuses located between your eyes may trigger an orbital infection that can cause redness and swelling of the eyelid, decreased visual acuity, and problems moving your eye. A fungal infection may be the cause if your immune system is weakened by chemotherapy treatments, diabetes, or other immunosuppressive diseases.
Orbital cellulitis inside the eye socket is a serious complication of sinusitis. Without prompt treatment, inflammation that leads to infection can worsen, spread to the other eye, or cause vision loss. Infection caused by a staph bacteria known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) that progresses can even lead to permanent blindness.
Treatment for orbital cellulitis may include oral steroids along with antibiotic therapy — either oral or intravenous. If eye pain is severe, your doctor may also prescribe medication to help relieve pain.
In rare cases, cavernous sinus thrombosis — a potentially life-threatening condition caused by an infection that spreads from the sinuses — can occur. When a blood clot blocks a vein behind the eye socket, symptoms may include swelling or irritation around one or both eyes as well as numbness or pain around the eyes. You may be unable to move the affected eye, and in some cases, blindness can occur.
For diagnosis and treatment of an eye infection, contact Robert S Haymond, MD to set up an appointment. Early treatment of a bacterial eye infection can prevent the infection from affecting your vision.