sinus infection, or sinusitis, is a common condition that affects 30 million
people in the United States each year, according to the National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The infection occurs when your
sinuses and nasal passages become inflamed.
sinuses are small air pockets located behind your forehead, nose, cheekbones,
and eyes. The sinuses produce mucus, which is a jelly-like liquid that protects
the body by trapping germs. Sometimes, bacteria or allergens can cause too much
mucus to form, which blocks the openings of your sinuses.
mucus is common if you have a cold or allergies. This mucus buildup can
encourage bacteria and germs to grow in your sinus cavity, leading to a
bacterial or viral infection. Most sinus infections are viral, and go away in a
week or two without treatment. If your symptoms don’t improve within a few
weeks, you likely have a bacterial infection and should schedule an appointment
with your doctor.
What Are the Types of Sinus
sinusitis has the shortest duration. A viral infection brought on
by the common cold can cause symptoms that last between one and two weeks. In
the case of a bacterial infection, acute sinusitis may last for up to four
sinusitis symptoms can last for up to three months. This condition
most often occurs with bacterial infections or seasonal allergies.
sinusitis symptoms last for more than three months. They’re often
less severe. Bacteria are generally not to blame in these cases. Chronic
sinusitis most commonly occurs alongside persistent allergies or structural
Who Is at Risk for a Sinus
can develop a sinus infection. However, certain other health conditions and
risk factors can increase your chances of developing one. Some of these are a
deviated nasal septum (when the wall of tissue that divides your nostrils displaces
to one side), a nasal bone spur (a bone growth in the nose), or nasal polyps
(noncancerous growths in the nose). If you have a history of allergies or
recently came into contact with mold, you may develop sinusitis.
weak immune system, smoking, or a recent upper respiratory infection have been
known to lead to sinusitis. Cystic fibrosis is a condition that causes thick
mucus to build up in your lungs. A dental infection can increase your chances
of a sinus infection, as can airplane travel, which exposes you to high concentrations
What Are the Symptoms of a
symptoms of sinusitis are similar to those of a common cold. They may include a
decreased sense of smell, fever, stuffy nose, headache (from sinus pressure or tension),
fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, or cough.
may be difficult for parents to detect a sinus infection in their children.
Signs of an infection include cold or allergy symptoms that don’t improve
within 14 days, a high fever (above 102.2°F), a thick, dark
mucus coming from the nose for longer than 72 hours, or a cough that lasts
longer than 10 days.
of acute, subacute, and chronic sinus infections are similar. However, the
severity and length of your symptoms will vary.
How Is a Sinus Infection
diagnose a sinus infection, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and do a
physical exam. They may check for swelling and tenderness by pressing a finger
against your head and cheeks. Your doctor may also examine the inside of your
nose to look for signs of inflammation.
most cases, your doctor can diagnose a sinus infection based on your symptoms
and the results of a physical exam. However, in the case of a chronic
infection, your doctor may recommend imaging tests to examine your nasal
passages and sinuses. These tests can reveal mucus blockages and any abnormal
structures, such as polyps.
CT scan provides a 3-dimensional picture of your sinuses. An MRI uses powerful
magnets to create images of internal structures. Your doctor may also use a
fiber-optic scope, a flexible tube that passes through your nose and records
images of your sinuses. An allergy test identifies irritants that may cause an
allergic reaction. A blood test can check for diseases that weaken the immune
system, such as HIV.
What Are the Treatment
Options for a Sinus Infection?
is the most common symptom of a sinus infection. To reduce mucus congestion and
clear your sinuses, apply a warm, damp cloth to your face and forehead several
times a day. Drink water and juice to stay hydrated and help thin the mucus. Use
a humidifier in your bedroom to add moisture to the air. Turn on the shower and
sit in the bathroom with the door closed to surround yourself with steam. Use
over-the-counter decongestants or nasal drops.
a medicine, such as guaifenesin, that thins mucus.
sinus infection can trigger a sinus headache or pressure in your forehead and
cheeks. If you are in pain, over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen
and ibuprofen can help.
your symptoms don’t improve within a few weeks, you likely have a bacterial
infection and should see your doctor. You may need antibiotics if you have a
runny nose, congestion, a cough that doesn’t improve after three weeks, facial
pain or headaches, eye swelling, or a fever.
you receive an antibiotic, you must take it for three to 14 days, depending on
your doctor’s instructions. Don’t stop taking your medication early, as this
can make the infection come back.
doctor will schedule another visit to monitor your condition. If your sinus
infection doesn’t improve or gets worse by your next visit, your doctor may
refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist. The doctor may also order
additional tests to determine whether allergies are triggering your sinusitis.
to clear the sinuses, repair a deviated septum, or remove polyps may help if
your chronic sinus infection doesn’t improve with time and medication.
How Can I Prevent a Sinus
sinus infections can develop after a cold, flu, or allergic reaction, a healthy
lifestyle and reducing your exposure to germs and allergens can help prevent an
infection. To reduce your risk, get a flu vaccine shot every year. Eat healthy
foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Wash your hands regularly and limit your
exposure to smoke, chemicals, pollen, and other allergens. Take antihistamine
medication to treat allergies and colds.
What Is the Long-Term
infections are treatable, and most people recover without seeing a doctor or
taking antibiotics. However, tell your doctor if you have repeated or chronic
sinus infections. You could have an underlying medical condition, such as nasal
left untreated, a sinus infection may cause rare complications, such as an
abscess (a collection of pus in the sinus cavity), meningitis (a
life-threatening infection that can cause brain swelling), orbital cellulitis
(an infection of the tissue surrounding the eyes), or osteomyelitis (a severe