A computed tomography (CT) scan of the sinus is an imaging test that uses x-rays to make detailed pictures of the air-filled spaces inside the face (sinuses).
You will be asked to lie on a narrow table that slides into the center of the CT scanner. You may lie on your back, or you may lie face-down with your chin raised.
Once you are inside the scanner, the machine's x-ray beam rotates around you. You will not see the rotating x-ray beam. (Modern "spiral" scanners can perform the exam without stopping.)
A computer creates separate images of the body area. These are called slices. The images can be stored, viewed on a monitor, or printed on film. Three-dimensional models of the body area can be created by stacking the slices together.
You need to stay still during the exam, because movement causes blurred images. You may be told to hold your breath for short periods of time. Straps and pillows may be used to keep you still during the procedure.
The actual scan should take about 30 seconds. The entire process should take 15 minutes.
For some tests, you will need to have a special dye, called contrast, to be delivered into the body before the test starts. Contrast helps certain areas show up better on the x-rays.
If you weigh more than 300 pounds (135 kilograms), find out if the CT machine has a weight limit. Too much weight can cause damage to the scanner's working parts.
You will be asked to remove jewelry and wear a hospital gown during the scan.
Some people may have discomfort from lying on the hard table.
Contrast given through an IV may cause a:
These feelings are normal. They will go away within a few seconds.
CT rapidly creates detailed pictures of the sinuses. The test may diagnose or detect:
The results from this test may also help your provider plan for sinus surgery.
Results are considered normal if no problems are seen in the sinuses.
Abnormal results may be due to:
Risks for a CT scan includes:
CT scans expose you to more radiation than regular x-rays. Having many x-rays or CT scans over time may increase your risk for cancer. However, the risk from any one scan is very small. You and your provider should weigh this risk against the benefits of getting a correct diagnosis for a medical problem.
Some people have allergies to contrast dye. Let your provider know if you have ever had an allergic reaction to injected contrast dye.
Rarely, the dye may cause a life-threatening allergic response called anaphylaxis. If you have any trouble breathing during the test, let the scanner operator know right away. Scanners have an intercom and speakers, so the operator can hear you at all times.
Reviewed By: Jason Levy, MD, Northside Radiology Associates, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.