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.