Sinusitis, also called a sinus infection, is a condition that causes headaches and sinus pressure. Sinusitis is caused by swelling or inflammation in the lining of the sinuses and nose. The sinuses are hollow air spaces in your facial bones, near the nose. They produce mucus, which helps line the nose and prevent dust and other particles from entering your lungs.
Although uncommon, untreated sinusitis can develop serious medical complications, including meningitis and brain abscess. It is important to see your doctor if your sinusitis lasts longer than 9 days and is unresponsive to over-the-counter medicine.
Symptoms of sinusitis include:
- Sinus pressure
- Facial pain or pressure
- Nasal blockage or congestion (“stuffed up” nose)
- >Loss of sense of smell
- Cough or congestion
- Runny nose
- Ear pain
- Teeth pain
Sometimes sinusitis is caused by bacteria. Additional symptoms of bacteria-caused sinusitis include:
- Pus-like nasal discharge
- Symptoms that last longer than a week
- Symptoms that do not get better with the use of over-the-counter medicines
You should make an appointment to see your doctor if:
- You have a fever higher than 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius) and experience purulent (PYOO-roo-lent) (pus-filled) nasal discharge and/or facial pain for greater than three days.
- Nasal discharge and/or daytime cough have lasted longer than nine days, or if your symptoms seem to be worsening.
- If you seem to be developing additional symptoms, for example, you started with a cough, but now have a cough, and/or headache, and/or fever.
- If you have the symptoms of sinusitis and recently had an upper respiratory infection that lasted greater than six days.
Common causes of sinusitis include:
- The virus that causes the common cold
- Deviated septum
- Nasal polyps
- Other particle-related sinus irritation, such as exposure to dust or smoke
- Fungus (extremely rare, but very serious medical emergency)
Although the causes of a sinus infection may be contagious, most people do not spread sinusitis from one person to another.
Typically, your doctor will perform a physical exam and review your medical history to determine if you have a sinus infection.
Once your doctor has determined that you have sinusitis, they may try to find out if your sinusitis is acute, subacute, chronic, or recurrent. Knowing your type of sinusitis will help your doctor figure out how to best treat it.
Your doctor will also determine if your sinusitis is bacterial or not because this will also affect the prescribed treatment.
In rare cases, sinusitis may be caused by a fungus. When this happens, it is a very serious medical emergency. Your doctor will help you determine if your sinusitis is caused by a fungus and, if so, also help you decide the best course of action for treatment.
If you have a minor sinus infection, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter pain killer and a nasal wash to help ease your symptoms. Over-the-counter decongestants, cough medications, antihistamines, or nasal sprays may help treat symptoms of sinusitis. Please talk to your doctor about whether or not you should use these as part of your treatment.
If your sinus infection appears to be caused by bacteria, your doctor may give you a round of antibiotics, which you will need to take for the next 10 to 14 days. It is important take all of your antibiotics, even if you start to feel better before you finish all of them.
At-home treatments to alleviate the nose and sinus pain also include:
- Placing a warm compress, such as a warm washcloth, over the eyes
- Nasal irrigation, such as a neti (NEH-tee) pot, to help drain the sinuses
- Using an at-home vaporizer or humidifier
Many times, sinusitis is caused by another medical condition, such as a cold or allergies. In order to prevent sinusitis, you need to treat these conditions as soon as possible. Quick treatment can help prevent a bacterial infection from growing in the sinuses and prevent sinusitis.
Also, the same things that help to prevent a cold can also help prevent sinusitis. Wash your hands frequently and avoid contact with people who do have colds or viral upper respiratory infections.
Other steps to help prevent sinusitis include:
- Get an annual flu shot
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Get plenty of exercise
- Quit or avoid smoking
- Use a humidifier