What is acute frontal sinusitis?

Your frontal sinuses are a pair of small, air-filled cavities located just behind your eyes in the brow region. Along with three other pairs of paranasal sinuses, these cavities produce a thin mucus that drains through your nasal passages. Excess mucus production or inflammation of the frontal sinuses can prevent this mucus from draining properly, resulting in a condition called acute frontal sinusitis.

The main cause of acute frontal sinusitis is mucus buildup due to sinus inflammation. Several factors may influence the amount of mucus being produced and your frontal sinus’ ability to drain the mucus:


The common cold virus is the most frequent cause of acute frontal sinusitis. When you have a cold or flu virus, it increases the amount of mucus your sinuses produce. That makes them more likely to clog and become inflamed.


Your sinonasal cavity is filled with tiny hairs called cilia that help block organisms from entering the sinuses. These cilia aren’t 100 percent effective. Bacteria can still enter your nose and travel to the sinus cavities. A bacterial infection in the sinuses will often follow a viral infection, since it’s easier for bacteria to grow in the mucus-rich environment caused by a viral infection such as the common cold. Bacterial infections usually cause the most severe symptoms of acute sinusitis.

Nasal polyps

Polyps are abnormal growths in your body. Polyps in the frontal sinuses may block the sinuses from filtering air and increase the amount of mucus buildup.

Deviated nasal septum

People who have a deviated nasal septum can’t breathe equally through both sides of their nose. A lack of proper air circulation can cause inflammation if the tissues of the frontal sinuses become compromised.

Risk factors for acute frontal sinusitis include:

  • frequent colds
  • allergic reactions
  • smoking tobacco products
  • enlarged adenoids (tonsils)
  • weak immune system
  • fungal infections
  • structural differences in the sinus cavities that impact drainage ability

Facial pain around your eyes or forehead is the most common symptom of acute frontal sinusitis. Other symptoms may vary in severity depending on the type of inflammation or infection. They include:

  • nasal discharge
  • feeling of pressure behind the eyes
  • inability to smell
  • cough that gets worse during the night
  • feeling unwell (malaise)
  • a mild or high fever
  • tiredness
  • sore throat
  • unpleasant or sour breath

Children may have all of the above symptoms, as well as the following:

  • a cold that worsens
  • discharge that is unusual in color
  • high fever

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and their duration to distinguish between a common cold and acute frontal sinusitis. Your doctor may lightly tap on your frontal sinuses to assess pain and tenderness.

You may also be referred to an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT). This specialist will check your nasal cavity for signs of polyps and inflammation. They may also take samples of your mucus to look for infection.

Other tests your doctor may use to diagnose acute frontal sinusitis include:

  • nasal endoscopy to look inside your sinus and nasal cavities
  • imaging tests with a CT scan or MRI
  • allergy tests
  • blood tests for other possible causes of sinusitis

Your treatment depends on whether your sinusitis is caused by bacteria, polyps, or some other factor.

Since most cases of acute frontal sinusitis are caused by a viral infection, your doctor may recommend taking a nasal spray or decongestant to decrease inflammation, assist with mucus drainage, and relieve pressure in the frontal sinuses.

You may also be advised to take an over-the-counter pain reliever to treat the symptoms caused by acute frontal sinusitis. However, children shouldn’t be given aspirin. It can cause a deadly condition known as Reye’s syndrome. Antihistamines are also frequently used given their drying effects, but overuse can also lead to discomfort.

If your symptoms don’t improve within seven to 10 days, the cause of your sinusitis may be bacterial. Your doctor will likely prescribe you antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection.

Surgery can be used to repair a deviated septum causing acute frontal sinusitis.

Most acute sinusitis symptoms begin to disappear within a few days of treatment. However, you should always take all prescribed medications as instructed. It may take several weeks before the problem completely clears.

If symptoms persist for 12 weeks or longer, it’s known as chronic frontal sinusitis. Chronic sinusitis can be more difficult to treat with medicine and often requires surgery to improve sinus drainage.

You can help prevent problems in your sinuses by practicing good hygiene to avoid infection. You should wash your hands before eating and after using the bathroom. Make sure to wash your hands before touching your face. Avoiding allergens such as tobacco smoke can also prevent infection and mucus buildup.

Drink plenty of water and eat healthy foods to keep your immune system strong and functioning properly. Staying hydrated can also help with mucus drainage.