No matter the season, having a cold is never convenient. It’s even worse when your cold turns into a sinus infection. A sinus infection will stick around long after symptoms of an upper respiratory infection are gone. You might even know it’s a sinus infection because you get sinus infections frequently. Perhaps your doctor diagnosed your sinus infection after you just couldn’t seem to get better. After all, since almost 30 million Americans suffer from sinusitis, your doctor likely treats them a lot.
The question is, when do you need to see a specialist? If your sinus infection just isn’t going away, or if you seem to get recurrent sinus infections, it may be time to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
Symptoms of a sinus infection
Sinusitis (a sinus infection) happens when you have the following symptoms:
- Fever of 101°F or higher
- Green or yellow nasal discharge
- Pain in your face or upper teeth
- Cold symptoms lasting longer than 10 days
- Pain or congestion in your sinuses (pain on either side of your nose, in your forehead, or between your eyes)
- A cough caused by a postnasal drip in the back of your throat
Is your sinus infection acute or chronic?
A short-term sinus infection is often referred to as acute sinusitis. Most cases of acute sinusitis last about a week, but this type of short-term sinus infection can last up to four weeks. If you suffer from a sinus infection that lasts longer than 12 weeks despite treatment from your doctor, it’s considered chronic sinusitis.
What causes a sinus infection?
In most cases, acute sinusitis is caused by a bacterial or viral infection, which means it usually develops after you’ve had a cold or the flu. It’s possible for an acute sinus infection to develop into a chronic infection over time. However, most chronic sinus infections are caused by:
- Problems with the physical structure of your sinuses such as nasal polyps, narrow sinuses, or a deviated septum
- Allergies such as hay fever that cause inflammation
Certain health conditions are also known to accompany chronic sinusitis. These include:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Primary immune deficiency disesase
Treatment for sinus infection
Whether you have an acute sinus infection or a chronic infection, a number of treatment options can relieve your discomfort. If you’re in the early stage of an acute sinus infection, it may be appropriate to start at-home treatments while you monitor your symptoms. If your sinusitis worsens, you’ll need to call your doctor for medication and further care. Even if you’re receiving treatment from your doctor, at-home care can help ease your symptoms.
At-home sinus infection remedies
There are many things you can do now to ease the symptoms of your sinus infection. These include:
- Steam therapy. Start in a warm shower and sit in your bathroom to allow the steam a chance to clear out your sinuses.
- Warm compress. Place a warm washcloth on painful sinuses. The heat will relieve pressure in your face.
- Set up a humidifier. Adding moisture to the air will ease nasal discomfort.
- Try nasal irrigation. Use a bulb syringe or neti pot to flush salt water through your sinuses and clear out mucus.
- Get enough rest. When you’re sick, you need rest. Resting is one of the best ways your body can heal.
- Drink enough water. Extra fluids allow your body to clear out toxins and thin out mucus.
- Use a saline nasal spray. Over-the-counter saline nasal spray will keep your sinuses moist.
- Use a nasal steroid spray. Over-the-counter sprays such as Flonase, Nasacort, or Rhinocort can settle down inflamed sinuses.
Your doctor may treat your sinus infection with antibiotics, decongestants, pain relievers, allergy medications, or steroids. The course of treatment your doctor takes will depend on the cause of your sinus infection.
Should you visit a specialist?
If your sinus infection just won’t go away or keeps coming back, it may be time to see an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. An ENT treats conditions of the ear, nose, throat, head, face, and neck. It may be time to see an ENT if:
- You’ve completed several courses of antibiotics without success
- Your doctor suspects nasal polyps or another blockage of the nasal cavity
- You have chronic sinusitis that lasts longer than 12 weeks
Living with a sinus infection is miserable — and living with a sinus infection for weeks on end is worse. Contact your doctor or an ENT to get the treatment you need.