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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maxillary sinus cysts can lead to sinusitis. Common symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Post-nasal drip
- Sinus pain or pressure
- 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
- 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.
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 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 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.