Medical Information
Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis

Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis

Ear, Nose, & Throat (ENT)
Contributed byMaulik P. Purohit MD MPHApr 28, 2018

What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Airborne Irritant Induced Rhinosinusitis
  • Sinusitis from Airborne Irritants

What is Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis is a form of sinusitis that usually occurs in an occupational environment. It can be caused by irritating dust and chemical vapors, which are airborne particulate matter
  • Sinusitis is the inflammation of the sinuses; the sinuses are small air-filled spaces inside the cheekbones and forehead. Their function is to secrete mucus that lines the nasal passage, thereby protecting it from external agents (pollutants or pathogens)
  • Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis causes inflamed sinus cavities and difficulty breathing through one’s nose, apart from other signs and symptoms of the eyes, forehead, and even of the mouth/jaws. Severe cases may even result in asthma attacks, chronic sinusitis, and ear infections
  • The treatment of Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis involves a complete avoidance of the causative agent, the use of nasal sprays, decongestants, and oral medications
  • The condition can resolve without any significant complications, if suitable treatment is provided. However, identifying and avoiding the offending substance is the most important step towards preventing Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis

Who gets Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis can affect individuals of any age group
  • Both men and women are affected by this condition
  • No racial, ethnic, or geographical predominance is observed. Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis is observed worldwide

What are the Risk Factors for Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis? (Predisposing Factors)

The risk for Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis may include exposure to any of the following substances:

  • Industrial chemical fumes and gases
  • Exposure to ammonia and formaldehyde vapors
  • Dust from an industrial setting such as from woodcutting or fiberglass cutting
  • Tobacco smoke

Individuals in the following trades or profession are at an increased risk:

  • Cooks and chefs
  • Welders
  • Glass blowers
  • Factory or industrial workers
  • Agriculture, farming
  • Mining
  • Construction workers
  • Transportation
  • Individuals working in the environmental services

Also, people living in highly polluted cities and towns (pollution that occurs due to dust, smoke, and other airborne particulate matter) have a high risk for the condition.

The following factors or health conditions can render an individual more prone to Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis:

  • Birth defects of the nasal passage
  • Nasal tumors and polyps
  • Trauma to the nose and cheeks
  • Certain medical procedures (nasal tube)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Asthma

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis? (Etiology)

  • Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis is a type of sinusitis, which is inflammation of the sinus cavity
  • The inhaled airborne irritants (particulate matter from dust or gaseous fumes) irritate the mucosal membranes of the nasal cavity, sinuses, and throat, leading to its inflammation
  • The swelling blocks the sinus openings and does not allow mucus to drain properly, leading to facial pain and other symptoms of sinusitis. This also makes the body open to infection by other microorganisms
  • In many cases, continuous and repeated exposure to the harmful airborne particulate matter takes place. Such an exposure is mostly seen in an industrial or occupational setup
  • The irritants could be organic dust, metal-based (fumes), wood-based, agriculture products related, industrial chemicals (organic and inorganic), and even microorganisms

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis?

Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis signs and symptoms are observed following exposure to the airborne allergens/irritants. It may include the following:

  • Thick discharge from the nose, which may be greenish or yellowish in color
  • Blocked nose; congestion causing difficulty in breathing
  • Swelling of the face, facial tenderness
  • Pain in the nose, eyes, cheeks, forehead, and even in the jaws
  • Reduced sense of smell and taste
  • Cough, sore throat, body aches

Note: Not all individuals are affected by the same substance or to the same intensity.

How is Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis Diagnosed?

A diagnosis of Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis may involve:

  • A complete evaluation of one’s medical history (including occupational history, nature of work) to learn about the source of the condition
  • A thorough physical examination to observe the clinical signs and symptoms of the condition
  • Complete blood count (CBC) and other blood tests to determine the presence of antibodies to potential irritants
  • Nasal endoscopy to check the inside of the nose
  • CT and MRI scans of the sinuses
  • Nasal and sinus cultures
  • Allergy skin test

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis?

Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis could lead to the following complications namely:

  • Asthma attacks, which may be severe
  • Acute and chronic sinusitis due to infections
  • Infection of the ear
  • Reduced vision
  • If the infection affects the brain, it can cause meningitis
  • Absence from work, decreased productivity

How is Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis Treated?

Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis may be managed through the following measures:

  • Avoiding exposure to substances that are known airborne irritants
  • Use of nasal sprays to clear the nasal passage
  • Over-the-counter decongestants or medications
  • Medication to control pain
  • Nasal corticosteroids to help reduce inflammation
  • Immunotherapy, since the condition is caused by allergens

How can Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis be Prevented?

The following measures may be adopted to prevent Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis:

  • Identification and avoidance of substances that cause the irritation forms the first line of prevention
  • Avoid inhalation of airborne irritants, when possible
  • Use humidifier at home to add moisture to the indoor spaces
  • In case of an industrial exposure, use protective face masks or clothing
  • Observe safety regulations while handling chemicals
  • Enforcing governmental regulations on workplace safety and exposure to pollutants, chemicals, irritants, etc.
  • Creating an awareness amongst the workers and employers of the potential health hazards from inhaling smoke, dust, and gases
  • If the condition is due to an occupational exposure, then the occupation or job-related tasks or habits may have to be suitably modified

What is the Prognosis of Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis usually resolves if further exposure to the airborne irritant is stopped and suitable treatment provided
  • If the individual continues getting exposed to the offending substance, the sinusitis may persist and the condition may even worsen

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Airborne Irritant Induced Sinusitis:

  • Acute sinusitis affects the sinus cavities around the nasal passages, which gets swollen and inflamed, when attacked by a pathogenic microorganism. In this condition, individuals experience difficulty in breathing through their nose

The following article link will help you understand occupational asthma:


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On the Article

Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH picture
Approved by

Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

Assistant Medical Director, Medical Editorial Board, DoveMed Team


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