Sinusitis can cause facial pressure, sinus headache, and other symptoms. Treatment may depend on the cause.
A sinus infection, also known as sinusitis or rhinosinusitis, occurs when your nasal cavities become infected, swollen, and inflamed. Fluid buildup in the sinuses can cause germs to grow, leading to a sinus infection.
Sinusitis is usually caused by a virus and often lasts even after other upper respiratory symptoms are gone. In some cases, bacteria — or, rarely, fungi — may cause a sinus infection.
The type of sinus infection you have depends on how long it lasts and how often you get it.
- Acute sinusitis: This type of sinus infection lasts less than 4 weeks, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology. It’s usually part of a cold or other respiratory illness. It may also be caused by a bacterial infection (acute bacterial sinusitis).
- Subacute sinusitis: A subacute sinus infection lasts between
4 and 12 weeks.
- Recurrent acute sinusitis: An acute sinus infection is considered recurrent if the infection returns four or more times within a year, with each infection lasting 7 days or more.
- Chronic sinusitis: Chronic sinus infections last for more than 12 weeks or continue to recur.
What can be mistaken for a sinus infection?
Other conditions such as allergies, nasal polyps, and tooth infections can also cause sinus pain and symptoms.
Sinusitis symptoms can be similar to cold symptoms. But it may also cause:
- facial pain or pressure
- infected nasal discharge
- nasal congestion
Symptoms of acute infections last at least 10 days without improving or worsen within 10 days after seeming to improve. A general practitioner or an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT) can provide a treatment plan.
Pain or pressure in your sinuses
Your sinuses above and below your eyes and behind your nose can cause facial pain. You may feel pain in:
- your forehead
- on either side of your nose
- in your upper jaws and teeth
- between your eyes
This may lead to a sinus headache, a headache on the top of the head, or an earache.
Tenderness in the face
Your face may also be tender to the touch. This can occur:
- at the bridge of the nose
- under the eyes
- on the forehead and cheeks
Runny nose and postnasal drip
You may need to blow your nose often because of nasal discharge. It may appear:
- pink-tinged with blood, due to frequent blowing
Discharge may also drain down the back of your throat, causing postnasal drip. It can cause symptoms that include:
- coughing at night when you’re lying down to sleep
- coughing in the morning after getting up
- tickle in your throat
- sore throat
You may have swelling in your sinuses and nasal passages that lead to a “blocked“ feeling.
Because of the nasal congestion, you probably won’t be able to smell or taste as well as normal. Your voice may also sound “stuffy.”
Persistent pressure and swelling in your sinuses can give you symptoms of a headache. It can be worse:
- after lying down
- when barometric pressure changes
- when changing the position of your head
Throat irritation and cough
Postnasal drip can cause irritation and may lead to a persistent cough. It can be worse when lying down to sleep or after getting up from bed. It can also make sleeping difficult.
Sore throat and hoarse voice
Mucus can irritate your throat as it drips, resulting in a sore throat and hoarse voice. Frequent coughing and throat clearing can make it worse.
While not common, a low grade fever, meaning 100.4 to 103°F (38 to 39.4°C), may also occur with sinusitis.
Bad breath (halitosis)
The mucus that’s produced by your infected sinuses can smell bad and drip down the throat into the mouth.
Treatment for sinus infections may vary depending on how severe the infection is and how long it lasts.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications
Using a nasal decongestant spray, such as oxymetazoline, can help relieve sinus infection symptoms in the short term. But you should limit your use to no more than 3 days. Prolonged use can make your symptoms worse.
A steroid nasal spray such as fluticasone (Flonase) or triamcinolone can help with nasal congestion symptoms without the risk of rebound symptoms from prolonged use.
OTC antihistamines and decongestants can help with sinus infections, particularly if you also experience allergies. Options can include:
- cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- fexofenadine (Allegra)
- loratadine (Claritin)
Decongestants are typically not recommended for people with:
Consider talking with a doctor before taking any of these medications to make sure they are the best choice for your situation.
Flushing out the nostrils
Because using unfiltered tap water can lead to a fatal infection, according to the
- if using tap water, boiling the water and allowing it to cool
- using a water filtration system
- buying distilled water
- using OTC premixed solutions
Learn how to do nasal irrigation with a Neti Pot.
Additional research is needed to compare herbal treatments with other methods. If you’re considering herbal remedies, be sure to talk with a doctor about which treatment options are right for you.
Antibiotics like amoxicillin treat acute sinusitis caused by a bacterial infection that has not resolved with other treatments.
Before prescribing antibiotics, a doctor may practice “watchful waiting,“ which involves monitoring a sinus infection to determine its cause before prescribing antibiotics. Antibiotics only treat bacterial sinus infections.
A doctor may prescribe antibiotics for a bacterial sinus infection that has lasted 10 days or more without symptoms improving, or if symptoms seem to improve but then get worse within 10 days.
Other remedies for symptom relief
You may be able to find relief with home remedies that include:
- staying hydrated
- drinking hot liquids like tea and broth
- breathing in moist air in the shower or with a humidifier
- resting your voice
- sleeping upright with your head elevated
- using sinus rinses
- using a warm compress
You may be able to prevent sinus infections or reduce their frequency. Steps can include:
- quitting smoking, if you smoke, which can make you especially prone to sinus infections
- avoiding pollutants, including second-hand smoke and chemicals
- washing your hands frequently, especially during cold and flu seasons
- diagnosing and treating allergies
- diagnosing and treating other health conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or enlarged adenoids, which tends to affect children and teens
If you’re allergic to something that causes persistent sinus symptoms, you will likely need to treat your allergies to relieve your sinus infection.
An allergy specialist can help determine the cause of the allergy. They may suggest:
- avoiding the allergen
- taking oral medications such as antihistamines
- doing allergic immunotherapy
A sinus infection may improve on its own. But in some cases, it may get worse.
While uncommon, if a sinus infection affects a sinus cavity close to the brain, it can spread to the space around the brain. Though rare, an infection can also pass into the eye socket and cause vision changes or blindness. These types of infections are more common in people with compromised immune systems.
While uncommon, a serious fungal sinus infection left untreated may pass into the bones.
Make an appointment with a doctor if you have severe symptoms, or if your symptoms last longer than 10 days or keep coming back.
Because the cause of your sinus infection can affect your treatment options, it’s important to see a doctor for a diagnosis. The Healthline FindCare tool can provide options in your area if you’re looking for a doctor.
If you may have chronic or recurring sinusitis, an otolaryngologist, also known as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist, may use imaging and other tests to determine the cause.
You could also have an underlying condition that causes chronic infections and needs special treatment.
Conditions that cause chronic infections may include:
- nasal polyps
- deviated septum
- other medical conditions
When it’s an emergency
Rarely, symptoms like those of a sinus infection may occur with serious health conditions. You may need urgent medical care if you experience any symptoms of a more serious infection, such as:
- a fever over 103°F (39.4°C)
- stiff neck
- changes in vision
- other related symptoms that are concerning or severe
It’s common for children to have allergies and to be prone to infections in the nose and ears.
Your child may have a sinus infection if they have the following symptoms:
- a cold that lasts over 7 days with a fever
- swelling around eyes
- thick, colored drainage from the nose
- postnasal drip, which can cause bad breath, coughing, nausea, or vomiting
A pediatrician can determine the best course of treatment for your child. Treatment can include:
- nasal sprays
- saline sprays
- pain relief medication
Do not give OTC cough or cold medicines or decongestants to your child if they’re under 2 years old.
Most children will fully recover from a sinus infection without antibiotics. Antibiotics are used for severe cases of sinusitis or in children who have other complications because of sinusitis.
If your child doesn’t respond to treatment or develops chronic sinusitis, a doctor may recommend that they see an ENT doctor. Enlarged adenoids may also cause sinusitis and similar symptoms.
Sinus infections often start to improve on their own after about 10 days. If your symptoms last longer without improving or worsening, a doctor may need to treat the underlying cause of the infection. Acute sinusitis usually goes away within 1 to 2 weeks with proper treatment.
Chronic sinusitis may require seeing a specialist or having long-term treatment to address the cause. An episode of chronic sinusitis can last longer than
Sinus infections can cause uncomfortable symptoms like pressure and congestion. They may go away with home care but sometimes require medical treatment.
Sinus infections that occur often may be due to an underlying condition.