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What Is a Maxillary Sinus Cyst?

By Carey Reeve
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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A maxillary sinus cyst is an abnormal tissue growth located in either of the cavities located behind the cheekbones on either side of the nose. These cavities are called sinuses, and they are located in the maxilla, or upper jaw. Cysts are closed, pocket-like formations of tissue and are filled with liquid, air or semi-solid material. Most cysts are completely harmless and require treatment only if they grow large enough that they interfere with the functions of surrounding tissues.

Sinuses

The maxillary sinuses are one of three types of sinuses that are associated with — and open into — the nasal passages. The cavities behind the nose and eyes are the ethmoid sinuses. Those behind the forehead area are the bilateral sinuses.

Cysts

Cysts can form anywhere on the body and can be caused by infections, inflammatory reactions, blockage of the normal movement of fluid or genetic disorders. Cysts that are on or near the surface of the skin or in soft tissue such as the breast might be noticed by the patient first. Those that lie deeper inside the body, such as those in the maxillary sinuses, might not be found until they cause enough irritation that diagnostic testing must be done.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms such as headaches; facial pain, including in a tooth or eye; chronic sinus infection; pressure; and swelling can be experienced if a maxillary sinus cyst grows too large or lies in a sensitive area. These cysts can form near the opening of an ostium, a tube that allows the sinus to drain, and can close off the opening. This causes increased facial pain and swelling because of the prevention of normal drainage.

Infection

If an infection isn’t already present, it’s highly likely that a blockage like this will lead to one quickly. Regardless of the size or location, it’s possible that a cyst will become infected and cause additional symptoms or an increase in severity of existing symptoms such as swelling, pain and fever. Infection from badly decayed or abscessed teeth can spread into the area, especially after oral surgery, because of the location of the maxillary sinuses.

Diagnosis

To diagnose a maxillary sinus cyst, a computed axial tomography (CAT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam is performed. Other testing, such as an electronystagmogram (ENG), which measures eye movement, might be necessary to rule out other causes of the patient's symptoms. In some cases, a doctor might perform an endoscopy, in which a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera on one end is used to examine the sinuses.

Surgery

Medical treatments used when a maxillary sinus cyst becomes infected or large enough to cause significant symptoms consist mainly of courses of antibiotics and surgery. Traditionally, open sinus surgery was the only option, bringing the potential for scarring and a long recovery time. The effort to avoid risks such as these has caused endoscopic sinus surgery to grow in popularity. In endoscopic surgery, the entire procedure is done by viewing the image sent from a tiny camera that is inserted through the nostril of the patient. After the cysts is surgically removed, a biopsy might be performed to ensure that it was not cancerous.

Prevention

There is no fully effective home treatment after a maxillary sinus cyst has formed, but there are several preventative treatments that one might consider. Sinus congestion adds to the risk of developing a maxillary sinus cyst, so any action that relieves congestion and promotes quick drainage will help prevent them. A store-bought or homemade saline solution rinse will clean the sinus cavities and reduce swelling in the nasal passages as well as gently disinfect them. The saline can be dropped into the nose with the head tilted back, or a cruet or small pitcher can be used to pour the solution into one nostril while allowing it to drain out of the other nostril.

The pouring method cleans more thoroughly, but many people are bothered by the thought of water completely filling their nasal passages. If the solution is warmed to a comfortable bath water temperature before use and the patient breathes only through his or her mouth, there usually is very little discomfort. Humidifiers help keep mucus thin so that it drains properly, and warm washcloths applied to the face will open the smaller nasal passages and blood vessels, which will increase drainage and decrease swelling.

Is Maxillary Sinus Cyst Dangerous?

Maxillary sinus cysts are rarely dangerous. Many go unnoticed for a long time due to an absence of symptoms. They are often discovered by accident during an MRI or CAT scan for an unrelated complaint. Sometimes they go away on their own without complications. However, some cysts cause problems that require medical attention.

Obstruction

Some cysts grow large enough to block the sinuses, preventing them from draining properly. This causes pressure, pain and congestion. You may experience headaches, swelling or soreness around your eyes, nose and cheeks. Besides being painful, an obstruction can lead to other issues, such as sleep apnea and sinusitis.

Sleep Apnea

Sinus blockage due to cysts may lead to obstructive sleep apnea, a common and potentially serious sleep disorder. Sleep apnea occurs when you repeatedly stop breathing while you sleep. This disrupts your rest, leading to fatigue during the day. It often disturbs those around you as well, as snoring is a common symptom.

Sleep apnea can be dangerous for many reasons. It affects your blood pressure, increases your risk of a heart attack and exacerbates existing heart conditions. People with sleep apnea are more likely to experience complications from anesthesia and medication. Poor sleep affects your mental health, social life, work and education, and it increases the risk of vehicular and work-related accidents.

Sinusitis

Maxillary sinus cysts can lead to sinusitis. Common symptoms include:

  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Sinus pain or pressure
  • Headache
  • Inability to smell or taste

Treatment usually consists of over-the-counter medications and home remedies to relieve symptoms, and most infections clear up in a week or two. In rare cases, however, a more severe infection such as meningitis develops. Meningitis can be life-threatening, so it is important to watch for the symptoms:

  • Stiff neck
  • Severe headache
  • High fever
  • Confusion
  • Double vision

If you develop these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

How To Treat Maxillary Sinus Cyst

Not all cysts require intervention. However, if the cyst causes pain, sleep apnea, congestion or infection, it's time to seek medical treatment.

Endoscopy

Treatment usually involves surgical removal of the cyst. Endoscopic surgery is a popular and effective approach. It is normally an outpatient procedure and can be performed with a local or general anesthetic. There are few complications associated with sinus endoscopy. Most people only experience mild pain and discomfort after surgery.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics can't cure a cyst, but your doctor might prescribe them for an infection. Antibiotics can have side effects, and taking them unnecessarily can lead to resistance, so most doctors only prescribe them if the infection is not resolving on its own. Always complete the full course of treatment, even if your symptoms improve before you've finished. Because antibiotics don't shrink the cyst, the infection may reoccur, so surgical treatment may still be necessary.

Home Remedies

Home remedies can provide relief from the complications of a cyst. Nasal irrigation helps with congestion, but make sure the solution and equipment are sterile. Otherwise, you risk developing a dangerous infection. A warm compress encourages drainage and reduces inflammation. Steam from a hot shower can also soothe nasal passages and ease congestion.

While home remedies can help you feel better, they can't cure an infection or get rid of a cyst. If you are experiencing frequent sinus infections, congestion or pain, talk to your doctor about treatment options.

Can Maxillary Sinus Cyst Be Cancerous?

If your doctor suspects cancer, the cyst will be tested following removal. However, sinus cysts are almost always benign. Nevertheless, a benign one can have serious consequences when left untreated, so consult your doctor if you suspect you have a sinus cyst.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What is a maxillary sinus cyst?

One particular kind of cyst develops in the biggest of the four sinuses in the human skull, the maxillary sinus. It is characterized by a tiny, liquid-filled sac within the sinus cavity and is often brought on by sinus inflammation or infection. Cheek fullness, soreness and pressure, nasal congestion, and face pain are typical symptoms. The senses of taste and smell may also be lost as a consequence. Antibiotics and surgery to remove the cyst are possible treatments.

Are maxillary sinus cysts a severe medical issue?

In general, maxillary sinus cysts seldom result in major issues and do not represent a substantial danger to health. These might, however, become infected or clog the sinus, which could result in more serious issues, including an infection spreading to the brain. If you suffer any symptoms suggestive of a maxillary sinus cyst, it's best to visit a doctor.

What are the common symptoms of a maxillary sinus cyst?

The most typical signs of a maxillary sinus cyst are fullness in the cheeks, pressure, discomfort, nasal congestion, and face pain. The senses of taste and smell may also be lost as a consequence. Headaches, earaches, and a sore throat may also be present.

How is a maxillary sinus cyst diagnosed?

Imaging studies like CT scans or MRIs are often used to check the sinus and find any abnormalities, including cysts, in the maxillary sinus. The diagnosis may also be confirmed by taking a cyst biopsy.

What treatments are available for a maxillary sinus cyst?

Antibiotics are one of the common treatments for maxillary sinus cysts since they help lessen swelling and shrink the cyst. In rare circumstances, surgery may be required to remove the cyst. A surgical incision will be made in the sinus during the procedure, and the cyst and any contaminated tissue will be removed. Following the procedure, the patient may need an antibiotic course and follow-up visits to make sure the cyst doesn't come back.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1002571 — On Dec 22, 2019

Multi year experience of Lyme disease. It was much eased after years of antibiotics, but now many symptoms are creeping back. My right side of my body is most involved (intermittent neuro, vascular and tendon pains, etc.) My longtime concurrently post nasal drip is worse when I first get in bed and first get up. (Nose blowing, sneezing and coughing) I have intermittent pain in my right ear and my right eye has lots of drainage. I have intermittent little linear pains in my right temple and the teeth on right side have multiple problems, with two implants thus far, one of which now has pain at the gum line. The dentist can't determine why. One year ago, I had a max sinus cyst on the right seen on an MRI. My primary doc seems unwilling to pursue putting all these things together and prefers the blind men and elephant approach.

By anon996165 — On Jul 18, 2016

I have a 14 mm mucus retention cyst that lies in the left maxillary sinus. I have facial pain, dizzy spells, blind spots, and migraines. I have had a metallic taste in my mouth for the past six months. My ENT swears the cyst does not cause any of this, that surgery is too dangerous and they will do nothing for me, not even medications to try to reduce the cyst.

When will doctors learn that people are living organisms and science is a good tool, but is flawed by our limited ability to apply and understand it? Listen to your patients. Shame on doctors who tell patients that they have no symptoms because some research project says they are not supposed to have symptoms!

By anon991760 — On Jul 16, 2015

I have have had lots of symptoms like ear fullness ,pressure,ear ringing, dizziness and visual symptoms and my doctors never found anything after going to a doctor outside of my insurance he found I had a maxillary cyst.My symptoms are now subsiding with treatment of medications. Not sure why my other doctors did not find it since I have been complaining for 9 months. Also it was the same MRI from my insurance that the outside doctor saw that confirmed it.

By anon978686 — On Nov 19, 2014

I have symptoms of a strange condition called Trigeminal Neuralgia stabbing electric shock pain resonating from the left upper gums through the face and head (confirmed not dental).

I thought I was dying from the sudden attacks of intense pain. An ENT MRI revealed a 2.2 cm cyst in sinus region. I am on anti-seizure meds for this condition even though the neurologist said it was not a seizure. I am not sure if cyst is the cause but I am certainly going to have it removed surgically and hope the removal is the cure. The surgery involves going up my nostril to remove the cyst. Hope this helps someone else experiencing these symptoms. --carrie

By anon355361 — On Nov 15, 2013

I had the nasal maxilla cyst surgery today. However, the cyst was not removed due to the problem making an opening to the cavity. The doctor said that I have very thick bone inside as well as it was impossible with the wide bone area above my upper teeth which caused the cavity size very irregular like my left.

I got some foreign implants in my body recognized by ultrasound and I'm one of the targeted individuals who got gang stalking and electronic harassment. Can anyone tell me what caused such irregular nasal cavity or the cyst? It could be some UFO technology like the RFID tags secretly implanted in the UFO abductees.

By anon349321 — On Sep 24, 2013

I have recently had surgery for a maxillary cyst. I never knew I had anything wrong until the cyst liquid broke into my alveolar last Christmas. I thought it was something like a blister and my dentist had no clue after taking x rays. An oral surgeon did a panorex but was not sure what she was looking at. I finally went to a maxillofacial surgeon, who knew what it was right away.

Throughout its progress, I never had any pressure, discomfort or pain other than the appearance of the "blister" in my alveolar. Although I have always had active sinus drainage, usually needing to blow my nose every morning upon waking, the only other possible symptom I can describe is the loss of my sense of taste in the last two years, although that may not have any bearing on anything.

I am now sporting a very uncomfortable drain tube in my mouth in the hopes that the cyst will invert, reducing the need for further surgery, and possibly saving three teeth.

By anon326042 — On Mar 19, 2013

I just had two sinus surgeries. The first time my cyst was never removed. I had a right maxillary sinus mucus retention cyst. This is horrible. It caused so many symptoms and I had to fight to get my doctors to believe that these horrible chronic infections and bronchitis and allergic asthma and rhinitis were being caused by that mucus retention cyst.

I had dizziness, discomfort, many, many symptoms and it got worse. My second doctor, who completed the second surgery, said that it was infected when he opened it. After two surgeries I am still dealing with the infections. Take care of it. Don't let them tell you it's something else.

By anon324126 — On Mar 08, 2013

I've had terrible facial pain for about two years. My ENT doctor noted inflammatory sinus disease with some sort of cyst but he didn't seem too concerned about. So far they think it's because of TMJ. I haven't found anything that helps with the pain. After all this I can't help but wonder if that tiny cyst can be causing a lot of my pain.

By anon295704 — On Oct 08, 2012

During the fall and winter seasons, my symptoms seem to get worse. I have a 3 cm maxillary sinus cyst on my right side and it gives me very bad headaches on my right side, off and on. I am on a waiting list to get surgery to remove my cyst, but they said it will take at least six months to two years. It stinks not having insurance.

By anon290408 — On Sep 09, 2012

I had a maxillary cyst enucleation Tuesday of last week. My doctor said there was a small hole in my sinus; it is about 1 mm he said. Will this hole heal on its own and if not what complications will result from it?

By anon289823 — On Sep 06, 2012

I have a maxillary cyst and am desperately trying to get rid of it homeopathically. I started a blog to document my progress. Hopefully I will give some useful tips and we can all get rid of this stuff naturally. It's a horrible feeling, eh? I watched a video for the surgery and it is not for me.

By anon262543 — On Apr 20, 2012

My two year old boy recently had a CT scan that revealed maxillary sinusitis after a couple of episodes of seizures that came out of the blue. Could these be related?

By anon257420 — On Mar 26, 2012

Is a retention cyst in the maxillary sinus the same as a maxillary sinus cyst? I had an MRI in 2009 that confirmed a retention cyst in left ms but it wasn't giving me any trouble.

Flash forward to 2012 and I am looking at sinus balloon surgery for chronic sinusitis. My ENT is not sure of the cause. I have two pea sized lumps by my left cheekbone. ne can be moved around, but the other appears fixed on cheekbone. The ENT said it was probably a lymph node from my sinuses.

He said couldn't feel anything on my cheekbone but now my husband and I can both clearly feel a round "bump" that feels like cheekbone itself. Should I be concerned?

By anon250594 — On Feb 26, 2012

@Planch: It could well be a cyst, and you should have a head CT scan to find out.

By anon142445 — On Jan 13, 2011

I have a maxillary sinus cyst found through an MRI for a previous seizure. It's been about 12 years since they found the cyst.

My question is: can the cyst become so large that it causes dizziness? The cyst is on my right side and lately when I try to sleep on my right side or lie on my right side, I become dizzy and have to get up immediately. The dizziness causes me to become nauseated. The sensation does go away and returns some weeks later. --melissa O.

By yournamehere — On Nov 11, 2010

How would a doctor tell the difference between, say, the symptoms of sinus cancer and the symptoms of a maxillary sinus cyst.

Don't the two present in pretty similar ways? I mean, it's not like a cyst on your arm where you can tell immediately that it's a cyst and not a tumor; the sinuses are hard to see into anyway, and I can't imagine that having an extra blockage of any kind would make it any easier.

So how do they diagnose sinus cancer, and how do they know that it's different from a maxillary sinus cyst? I would be really interested to learn more about this topic.

Thanks!

By pharmchick78 — On Nov 11, 2010

@planch -- Unfortunately, it can be hard to diagnose a maxillary cyst without an MRI -- they're kind of like sinus tumors, without getting up in there to look it can be hard to tell what's going on.

The only real symptoms of a retention cyst in the maxillary sinus are those mentioned in the article -- pain, chronic sinus infections, facial swelling, and pressure. Although you could have a maxillary cyst, especially since you do experience such frequent sinus pain and infections, it's equally likely that you've just got sinus polyps. Sinus diagnostics are, like I said, very difficult without actually seeing what's going on, so if you're very concerned, then I would suggest you ask your doctor about it.

Again, although you may have a maxillary sinus mucus retention cyst, there's simply no way for anyone to know without actually seeing what's going on up in there.

Best of luck.

By Planch — On Nov 11, 2010

Very interesting -- it makes me wonder if I've got a cyst in my maxillary sinus though. I've always been really prone to sinus infections; I tend to get one probably twice a year, and they are usually so bad that I have to go on a course of antibiotics before they spread to my Eustachian tubes and throat.

Do you think that my maxillary sinusitis could possibly be related to a maxillary cyst? What are some of the maxillary sinus cyst symptoms? And if I do have one, then would a maxillary sinus cyst removal procedure stop me from having all these terrible sinus infections?

Because I would be willing to undergo about anything if I knew I could get them to stop -- what do you think?

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