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Sinus-Stricken? Symptoms of an Infection

Written by Mary Ellen Ellis | Published on September 13, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on September 13, 2013

Sinusitis

If you’ve ever had a sinus infection, you know the pain and discomfort it can cause. Medically termed sinusitis, a sinus infection occurs when the cavities around your nose become swollen and inflamed.

Sinusitis is most often caused by a virus and often lasts long after the other upper respiratory symptoms are gone. Rarely, fungus or bacteria may cause a sinus infection. Allergies, nasal polyps, a tooth infection, and a deviated septum are other ways in which sinusitis may be triggered.

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Chronic vs. Acute

Sinusitis is acute if it lasts for a short period of time. The acute infection is usually part of a cold or allergies. If your sinus infection lasts for more than eight weeks, or continues to reoccur, you have a chronic infection.

Many symptoms of a sinus infection are common to both the acute and the chronic forms. The best way to know for sure if you have an infection, to find the cause, and to get treatment, is to see your doctor.

Pain

The most common symptom of sinusitis, and often the most unpleasant, is pain. You have several different sinuses above and below your eyes, and behind your nose. Any of these can hurt when you have a sinus infection.

Inflammation and swelling in the sinuses causes them to ache with a dull pressure. You may feel pain in your forehead, on either side of your nose, in your upper jaws and teeth, or between your eyes.

You Asked, We Answered

  • Could my symptoms just be allergies?- Anonymous
  • The symptoms of sinus infection and allergies can be similar. Both can cause symptoms such as runny nose, congestion, headaches, nighttime cough, and difficulty breathing. You are more likely to have a sinus infection if you have fever, colored nasal discharge, and facial or sinus pain.

    - Mark R. LaFlamme, MD

Sinus Discharge

Pain from a sinus infection is no fun, and the nasal discharge isn’t great either. When you have a sinus infection, you may need to blow your nose often because of a greenish-yellow discharge. This comes from your infected sinuses and drains into your nasal passages.

The discharge may also bypass your nose and flow down your throat. You may feel tickle or an itch down the back of your throat. This is called postnasal drip.

Congestion

At the same time that you’re dealing with the drainage, your inflamed sinuses may also be restricting how well you can breathe through your nose. The infection causes swelling in your sinuses and in your nasal passages. Because of the nasal congestion, you’ll probably experience a reduced sense of smell and taste.

Headache

The relentless pressure and swelling in your sinuses can reverberate throughout your skull and leave you with a massive headache. The pain can also show up in places you might not expect. Sinus pain can give you earaches, toothaches, and pain in your jaws and cheeks.

Sinus headaches are often at their worst in the morning because fluids have been collecting all night long. You may also experience a worsening of the headache when the temperature of your environment changes suddenly.

Cough

As the discharge from your sinuses drains down the back of your throat, it can cause plenty of irritation, especially over a long period of time. This can lead to a persistent and annoying cough.

A sinus cough is particularly aggravating because it tends to be worse at night, making sleeping difficult. Sitting upright to sleep can help reduce the frequency and intensity of your coughing.

Sore Throat

That irritating postnasal drip can leave you with a raw and aching throat. Although it may start as an annoying tickle, it can get worse. If your infection lasts for a few weeks or more, the mucus can irritate and inflame your throat as it drips, resulting in a painful sore throat.

When to See Your Doctor

Any time you’re unsure of what’s going on with your health, you should see your doctor. In particular, make an appointment if you have a fever or if you have a sinus infection that lasts for weeks and keeps coming back. A fever is not a typical symptom of either chronic or acute sinusitis, but it is possible. You could have an underlying condition that is causing your chronic infections, in which case you may need special treatment.

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