Sinuses X-ray

Alternative names
Paranasal sinus radiography; X-ray - sinuses


A sinus X-ray is an examination involving images of the air-filled cavities in the frontal bones on the skull that are lined with a mucous membrane.

X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation like light, but of higher energy, so they can penetrate the body to form an image on film. Structures that are dense (such as bone) will appear white, air will be black, and other structures will be shades of gray.

How the test is performed
The test is performed in a hospital radiology department or in the health care provider’s office by an X-ray technician. You will be asked to sit in a chair so that any fluids in the sinus may be easily seen on the pictures. Your head may be placed in different positions as the pictures are taken.

How to prepare for the test
Inform the health care provider if you are pregnant. Remove all jewelry.

Infants and children:
The physical and psychological preparation you can provide for this or any test or procedure depends on your child’s age, interests, previous experiences, and level of trust. For specific information regarding how you can prepare your child, see the following topics as they correspond to your child’s age:

  • Infant test or procedure preparation (birth to 1 year)  
  • Toddler test or procedure preparation (1 to 3 years)  
  • Preschooler test or procedure preparation (3 to 6 years)  
  • Schoolage test or procedure preparation (6 to 12 years)  
  • Adolescent test or procedure preparation (12 to 18 years)

How the test will feel
Generally, there is little or no discomfort associated with X-rays.

Why the test is performed
This test is performed when symptoms of sinusitis or other sinus disorders are present.

What abnormal results mean

The X-ray may detect tumors, obstruction, infection, and bleeding.

Additional conditions under which the test may be performed include the following:

  • Meningitis  
  • Orbital cellulitis  
  • Acute sinusitis  
  • Chronic sinusitis

What the risks are
There is low radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the risk of most X-rays is smaller than other risks we take every day. Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to the risks of X-rays.

Special considerations

A CT scan of the sinuses is often preferred over X-rays because CT offers superior cross-sectional imaging capability and the opportunity to identify other possible causes for the presenting symptoms.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Janet G. Derge, M.D.

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