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 doctor find out what is causing the problem. It is most often done by an otolaryngologist. This is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating ear, nose, and throat problems.

Health history

You will be asked about your health history. Explain your symptoms. Tell your doctor how long you have had the symptoms and what treatments you have used. Tell your doctor 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 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 doctor 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 doctor 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 doctor will then put the endoscope into your nose. If problems are found, the doctor will work with you to plan treatment.