Also called sinusitis, a sinus infection is an inflammation of the sinuses that affects 31 million people in the US alone. It can sometimes be mistaken for other sinus-related conditions that may require different treatment.
What causes sinus infections?
In healthy nasal passages, the sinuses are filled with air within the cheeks, eyebrows and behind the nose. They can become blocked and fill with fluid, however, leading to an infection. This might be caused by a few different conditions:
- • Common cold
- • Structural abnormalities: Deformity of the partition between nasal passages, nasal polyps (nasal growths in the nose lining), or narrowing of the openings in the sinuses
- • Deviated septum: Shift in the nasal cavity
- • Allergic rhinitis: Swelling in the nose lining
- • Prior allergy or asthma symptoms
There are a few different types of sinus infections:
- • Acute sinusitis: Usually beginning with cold symptoms, this type starts suddenly and lasts between 2-4 weeks.
- • Subacute sinus inflammation: Lasts roughly 4-12 weeks.
- • Chronic inflammation: Symptoms that last 12 weeks or longer.
- • Recurrent sinusitis: When symptoms return several times per year.
Not a cold or a flu
In many cases, people confuse a bad cold or flu with a sinus infection. They have many of the same symptoms, but sinus infections are more commonly caused by a specific bacterial infection and require specific antibiotic drugs for treatment. Sinus infections may also be confused with rhinitis, which refers to inflamed or irritated nasal passages. If you’re unsure which condition you have, see your doctor or allergist for diagnosis.
Symptoms of a sinus infection may include the following:
- • Headaches in the front of the head
- • Stuffiness, congestion or coughing
- • Loss of ability to smell
- • Fever
- • Pain in the teeth
- • Postnasal drip
- • Pressure in the head
- • Discolored (greenish) nasal discharge
- • Tenderness of the face, especially under the eyes or at the bridge of the nose
- • Fatigue
- • Bad breath
- • Pus in the nasal cavity (in chronic cases)
- • Nasal obstruction or blockage (in chronic cases)
For acute sinus infections, you’ll likely be recommended a decongestant, saline nasal washes and possibly antibiotics. Never take an over-the-counter decongestant for more than three days, as this can actually increase your congestion. Antibiotic treatments usually last 10 to 14 days.
If symptoms don’t disappear after this treatment, consider warm, moist air to help open nasal passages. You may also try saline nose drops and warm compresses for the nose. If symptoms persist, further treatment options may include:
- • Steroids: Prescription nasal corticosteroids that help reduce inflammation and swelling. These can also help prevent nasal polyps.
- • Antihistamines: To block the symptoms of an allergic reaction that may be contributing to the infection.
- • Trigger avoidance: If you have specific triggers that have been linked to sinusitis, you have to avoid these.
- • Antifungal medication: Sinus infections may occasionally be caused by fungus. In these cases, antifungal medication is used.
- • Immunoglobulin: To help protect the immune system in people with immune deficiencies that are contributing to infection.
- • Surgery: If more conservative treatments have all failed, surgery can be performed to correct or remove bone problems, nasal polyps or closed sinus passages. This is usually a same-day surgical procedure that requires no overnight hospital stay.
If you are experiencing symptoms of a sinus infection, don’t hesitate to call your doctor.
My profession allows me to interact with people on a level that few other jobs would. The number one way to provide safe, effective healthcare is to educate patients and make sure I listen to and understand their story and what they want to get out of their healthcare.
“Sinus Infection.” American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. http://acaai.org/allergies/types/sinus-infection
“What Is Sinusitis?” WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/allergies/sinusitis-and-sinus-infection#1