Riley CA, Navarro AI, Trinh L, Abuzeid WM, Humphreys IM, Akbar NA, Shah S, Lee JT, Wu T, Schneider JS, Tolisano AM, McCoul ED
Introduction Sinus infections are a common reason patients seek medical care. However, the intended meaning of the term sinus infection among patients and otolaryngologists is incompletely understood. Methods In this multi-institutional cross-sectional study, a semantics-based questionnaire was provided to consecutive patients presenting to otolaryngology clinics at six academic centers from June 2020 until May 2021. The primary outcome was respondent definitions for sinus infection from a list of 28 proposed terms covering six general categories. Secondary outcome measures included differences between geographic regions. Results Responses were obtained from 560 patients (54% female, mean age 48.9 years) and 29 otolaryngologists (42% female, mean age 37.4 years). Patients and otolaryngologists selected a median of 10 and 11 terms, respectively, to define a sinus infection. Among patients the most frequently selected symptom categories were mucus (500, 89.3%), pressure/pain (480, 85.7%), and airflow (468, 83.6%). Compared to patients, clinicians selected with greater frequency the symptom categories of pressure/pain (14.3% difference; 95% CI, 7.6% to 22.5%), mucus (10.7% difference; 95% CI, 4.7% to 18.3%) and airflow (13.0% difference; 95% CI, 4.8% to 21.7%). Multiple categories were selected by 96% of patients and 100% of providers. Conclusion The definition of sinus infection appears variable for both patients and otolaryngologists, though patients appear to apply a broader range of symptoms to the term sinus infection. There were no pronounced geographic differences in the description of a sinus infection in this US sample population. Patients commonly described sinus infection in the context of pain-related symptoms. Appreciation of these semantic differences may enable more effective patient-clinician communication.