From this pool, investigators zeroed in on 22 patients with moderate-to-severe sinus inflammation and 22 without sinus problems. Initially, the team saw no appreciable differences in terms of how well the patients fared on thinking tests, relative to those without sinusitis.
However, after further analyzing brain scans of this particular group, they discovered that a major functional hub — the frontoparietal network — was disrupted in cases of sinus inflammation.
“This brain area is important in coordinating the activity of several brain areas and maintaining balance in the brain,” Jafari said. He noted that the area seemingly affected by sinus inflammation largely overlaps with those brain regions that are affected by mental illnesses, such as depression and schizophrenia, “both of which are surprisingly common among sinusitis patients.”
Jafari suggested the finding is important because it may broaden the way clinicians view sinusitis.
“The acknowledgment of the brain dysfunction dimension of sinusitis by doctors is a powerful first step in treating the entire disease, not just the classic symptoms,” he said.
“With improved awareness, the research will follow,” Jafari added. “In the future, therapies focusing on brain dysfunction may be an option to help sinusitis patients regain their health and maximize their quality of life.”
Still, the findings are preliminary and do not show a direct cause-and-effect relationship.
For the moment, many questions remain.
For example, could it be that sinus inflammation actually predisposes patients to develop mental illness? “This is a topic we hope to soon explore,” Jafari said.