Clinically assessed chronic proteinacious sinonasal secretions usually have long T1 and T2 relaxation times reflecting their high water content. However, in some cases variable combinations of short and long T1 and T2 relaxation times are found. To study the causes of these findings, the magnetic resonance (MR) images of 41 patients with surgically proved, chronically obstructed sinonasal secretions were studied. The relative signal intensities on both T1- and T2-weighted sequences of the sinus specimens were correlated with the gross viscosity of the specimens at surgery. Ten specimens were collected that were not contaminated with either blood or saline. UV spectrophotometric analysis of four of these samples excluded the presence of methemoglobin. Total protein content was determined in five samples, and in vitro T1 and T2 values were measured in one sample. These T1 and T2 relaxation times were accurately predicted with use of a standard pure lysozyme protein solution with the same concentration as the specimen. In addition, the observed T1- and T2-weighted signal intensities on the 41 MR images were predicted from an analysis of pure protein solutions. This study concludes that the primary causes of the variable T1 and T2 relaxation times of chronic sinonasal secretions are the macromolecular protein concentration, the amount of free water, and the specimen viscosity. Furthermore, an orderly and predictable transition of these signal intensities occurs over time.