How does a sinus CT scan help to diagnose breathing problems?

December 27, 2023 – 10 min read

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If you or a loved one is experiencing breathing difficulty, and your healthcare provider has suggested a sinus CT scan, you might be curious about what to expect. Many providers depend on sinus CT scans to help diagnose breathing problems, and to create a care plan, which they tailor to your circumstances. That’s why understanding more about sinus CT scans is an important step toward improving your health and well being. 

What is a sinus CT scan and how does it work?

A sinus CT scan, or computed tomography scan, is a non-invasive diagnostic tool that uses a series of computer-processed X-ray measurements taken from different angles to produce cross-sectional images of the body. 

Specifically, it focuses on your sinus areas. Unlike regular medical imaging, a CT scan provides a more detailed look at your sinus cavities, showcasing the bone, blood vessels, and soft tissue in and around these areas. This detailed view helps healthcare providers get a comprehensive understanding of the sinus structures and any abnormalities that might be present.

Why are sinus CT scans used to investigate breathing problems?

Breathing problems can often be linked to issues in the sinus area, such as blockages, inflammation, or structural irregularities. Sinus CT scans are particularly useful in these cases as they provide a precise and detailed view of your sinus cavities, which other diagnostic tools might not capture as clearly. 

This level of detail allows specialty healthcare providers, such as otolaryngologists or ENT doctors, to identify specific sinus-related problems that could be contributing to your breathing issues. For example, a CT scan can reveal sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses), polyps (noncancerous growths), or deviated septa, which are common culprits behind breathing difficulties.

How can sinus health impact breathing?

The health of your sinuses is closely tied to your overall respiratory health. Healthy sinuses allow for proper air flow and drainage, which are vital for comfortable breathing. When there’s an issue within the sinus cavities, such as blockage, swelling, or structural anomalies, it can lead to difficulties in breathing. 

Problems in the sinus area can lead to symptoms like nasal congestion, reduced sense of smell, and even contribute to conditions like sleep apnea. Understanding the condition of your sinuses through a CT scan can therefore provide valuable insights into your respiratory health and guide effective treatment plans.

Preparing for Your Sinus CT Scan

Preparing for a sinus CT scan typically involves a few simple steps. It’s important to communicate with your healthcare provider about any concerns or allergies, especially to contrast materials if they are to be used in your scan. 

Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing for the scan. You might be asked to remove jewelry, eyeglasses, and any metal objects that could interfere with the imaging process.

Patient Laying on CT table before a CT imaging scan

Are there any special instructions regarding diet or medications?

In most cases, you can follow your usual diet and take medications as prescribed before your sinus CT scan. However, if your scan requires a contrast dye, you might be asked to fast for a few hours before the study. Always clarify with your healthcare provider if there are any specific dietary restrictions or medication adjustments needed. It’s crucial to inform your healthcare provider about all the medications and supplements you are taking, as some might need to be temporarily stopped before the scan.

What happens during the sinus CT scan study?

During the sinus CT scan, you will lie on a table that slides into the CT scanner, a large machine with a tunnel-like opening. The scanner will rotate around your head, capturing images from different angles. While the machine works, it’s important to remain still to ensure clear images are captured. 

The study is usually quick, often lasting only a few minutes. You might hear humming or buzzing noises from the machine, which is perfectly normal. If a contrast dye is used, it will be administered before the scan. This might cause a warm sensation or a metallic taste in your mouth, but these sensations are temporary. After the scan, you can typically resume your normal activities unless advised otherwise by your healthcare provider.

Understanding Your Sinus CT Scan Results

At an imaging center, a radiologist (which is a doctor specialized in interpreting medical images), analyzes your sinus CT scan. The radiologist examines the cross-sectional images for any signs of abnormalities in your sinus cavities. These could include blockages, inflammation, structural abnormalities, or growths like polyps. The images provide a detailed view, allowing the radiologist to observe even subtle changes in the sinus tissues. 

After thoroughly reviewing the images, the radiologist compiles a report detailing their findings, which is then sent to your healthcare provider. This report plays a crucial role in understanding the state of your sinus health and determining the next steps in your care.

How do I know if my sinus CT results indicate breathing issues?

Your sinus CT scan results can provide vital clues about the health of your sinuses and how they may be affecting your breathing. Common findings that might indicate breathing problems include sinusitis, nasal polyps, or structural issues like a deviated septum. These conditions can obstruct or restrict airflow, leading to breathing difficulties. 

When you receive your CT scan results, your healthcare provider will explain the findings and what they mean for your respiratory health. It’s important to understand that the CT scan is one piece of the puzzle, and your healthcare provider will consider these results alongside your symptoms and medical history to make a diagnosis.

What should I ask my provider about my CT scan results?

When discussing your CT scan results with your healthcare provider, it’s helpful to ask specific questions to gain a better understanding of your condition and the recommended treatment plan. Consider asking:

  1. What did the CT scan reveal about my sinus health? Request a straightforward explanation of any abnormalities found and how they relate to your symptoms.
  1. Do these findings explain my breathing problems? Understand the connection between the scan results and your breathing issues.
  2. What are my next steps? Discuss the options for managing any identified issues, whether through medication, surgery, or other interventions.
  3. How will the available treatments improve my breathing? Understand the expected outcomes and how they will address your breathing difficulties.
  4. Is follow-up imaging or testing required? Ask if additional scans or evaluations will be necessary to monitor your condition or the effectiveness of treatment.

Remember, your healthcare provider is there to help you navigate through these results and decide on the best course of action for your health. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification or additional information to ensure you’re fully informed and comfortable with your care plan.

Safety and Risks of Sinus CT Scans

Sinus CT scans are generally considered safe, but like any medical study, there are potential risks and side effects to know about. One of the primary concerns is exposure to radiation. While the amount of radiation in a sinus CT scan is typically low, it’s still important to limit unnecessary exposure. If you’re pregnant or suspect you might be, it’s crucial to inform your healthcare provider.

Another potential risk involves the use of contrast dye, which is sometimes injected to enhance image clarity. This dye can cause allergic reactions in some individuals, so it’s important to discuss any allergies with your provider beforehand. Side effects from the dye are rare but can include nausea, itching, or a warm sensation.

How is my safety ensured during the scan?

To ensure patient safety during a sinus CT scan, imaging centers take several measures. The scan is performed by trained professionals who follow strict protocols to minimize any risks. The CT equipment is regularly checked and maintained to ensure it operates safely and effectively. 

During the scan, you’ll be positioned carefully and given instructions on how to remain still to optimize image quality and reduce the need for repeat scans. If contrast dye is used, your healthcare provider will monitor you for any adverse reactions. Additionally, modern CT scanners are designed to use the lowest possible radiation dose to achieve clear images

What to know about radiation exposure

Radiation exposure from a sinus CT scan is a common concern among patients. It’s important to understand that while there is exposure to radiation, the amount is generally low and considered safe for adults. The risk associated with radiation exposure is cumulative, meaning it adds up over time with each radiation-based study. 

Your healthcare provider will recommend a CT scan only when the benefits outweigh the risks. Discussing your medical history and any previous imaging tests with your provider can help in making an informed decision. Keep in mind that advances in CT technology have significantly reduced the amount of radiation used in scans, making them safer than ever before. 

Find a touchstone medical imaging center near you

How to schedule your CT appointment with us

Touchstone Medical Imaging offers CT scans in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Oklahoma, and Texas. 

Reach out to us at Touchstone, and we’ll help you schedule a mammogram appointment at an imaging center near you, today.

We’re here to help you get the answers you need.

Frequently Asked Questions about Sinus CT Scans

 A sinus CT scan is a detailed imaging test that uses X-rays to create cross-sectional images of the sinuses to diagnose issues.

 Sinus CT scans provide detailed images of sinus structures, helping to identify blockages or abnormalities affecting breathing.

Yes, the health of your sinuses can significantly impact your breathing, especially if there are blockages or infections.

Typically, fasting is not required, but you should follow any specific instructions given by your healthcare provider regarding medications.

 Your doctor will provide specific guidance, but generally, no special diet or medication adjustments are required.

The procedure is quick, typically taking only a few minutes, and involves lying still while the scanner captures images.

Radiologists analyze the images for signs of sinus blockages, inflammation, or other abnormalities that might affect breathing.

The main risk is minimal radiation exposure, but modern CT scans are designed to use the lowest possible dose, for safety.