A sinus infection, or sinusitis, is the inflammation or swelling of the sinuses. The sinuses are air-filled spaces in your nose, cheeks, and forehead that make mucus to keep the inside of your nose moist. This helps protect the body against dust, allergens, and pollutants.
When your sinuses become blocked and filled with fluid, it creates an environment where germs can flourish. Sinus infections are caused by various pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Allergies and certain nasal conditions can also make sinusitis more likely.
Most sinus infections are viral, often following a cold or flu. Viruses cause the sinuses' lining to become inflamed, leading to congestion and difficulty draining mucus. Viral sinus infections usually begin to improve after 5 to 7 days.
In some cases, bacteria can infect the sinuses, causing a more prolonged infection. Symptoms are similar to viral infections, but bacterial sinusitis typically lasts for 7 days or longer.
Fungal sinusitis is a type of sinus infection that can lead to severe health issues and even death. Individuals with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of catching fungal sinusitis. Antifungal medications or surgery may be necessary to treat a fungal sinus infection.
For people with allergies, sinusitis can be triggered by inhaling dust, pollen, and other airborne irritants. While its symptoms largely mirror those of other sinusitis types, allergic sinusitis also can cause an itchy nose, eyes, and throat. These symptoms may fluctuate with the seasons, as airborne allergen levels change.
Nasal polyps are small growths that can appear inside the nose or the sinuses. They are painless and non-cancerous, but can contribute to breathing problems and make sinus infections more likely.
The septum is a wall of cartilage that divides your nostrils. Some people are born with a septum that is crooked or “deviated” from the midline of the nose. A deviated septum can also result from an injury to the nose. Deviated septums can block sinus drainage, resulting in repeated sinus infections.
Common symptoms of a sinus infection include:
Pain or pressure on the face, especially around the eyes, forehead, and cheeks
Cough (often worse at night)
Post-nasal drip (mucus dripping from the nasal passages into the throat)
Greenish nasal discharge
Sinus infections share many symptoms with common viral infections, such as the cold, flu, and COVID-19. This can make it difficult to distinguish whether your symptoms are being caused by a sinus infection or another ailment.
However, pain or pressure in your sinuses is a characteristic sign of a sinus infection. In addition, you may suspect a sinus infection if your illness is lasting longer than a week or your nasal discharge is greenish in color.
Getting the advice of a qualified medical professional is the best way to get the right diagnosis.
If your sinus infection is caused by bacteria, antibiotics may be prescribed to help the infection heal. Your healthcare provider may also recommend or prescribe decongestants, painkillers, or anti-inflammatory medication to help ease your symptoms.
Home remedies can provide relief from sinus infection symptoms. It’s important to drink lots of fluids, get extra rest, and avoid cigarette smoke or other airborne irritants. Warm compresses can relieve facial pain, while nasal irrigation products reduce congestion. Many over-the-counter cold medications are useful for managing the symptoms of sinus infections, as they tend to have overlapping symptoms. Common painkillers can help with the headaches and sinus pain associated with sinus infections.
In chronic or severe cases, sinus surgery may be recommended. Procedures such as endoscopic sinus surgery can remove nasal polyps and scar tissue that may be blocking your nasal passages. It can also be used to correct a deviated septum. As a result of surgery, you should be able to breathe more easily and experience less congestion, resulting in fewer sinus infections.
Preventive measures to avoid sinus infections include:
Hand hygiene: Regular handwashing reduces the risk of viral infections.
Allergy management: Identifying and managing allergies can prevent sinus infections.
Vaccinations: Stay up-to-date on vaccines for common viruses, such as the flu and COVID-19.
Avoiding Irritants: Avoid smoking, and stay away from respiratory irritants like wildfire smoke and second-hand smoke. Use an air purifier if indoor air quality is poor.
Physical distancing: If you know someone has an upper respiratory infection, avoid close contact with them until they are no longer contagious.
Humidification: Using a humidifier can keep nasal passages moist and reduce the risk of infection. It is important to clean your humidifier regularly (follow the instructions provided with the device).
Seek urgent care if:
Your symptoms begin to improve but then get worse
Your symptoms haven’t improved after 10 days
You have a fever that lasts for more than 4 days
You have severe a headache or pain in the face
You have any symptoms that are severe
You’ve had more than one sinus infection in the past 12 months
Don’t suffer from sinus infection symptoms longer than you have to. WellNow Urgent Care can diagnose and treat your sinus infection right away. Walk into a location near you or reserve your time today.
This medical information has been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Robert Birenbaum, Chief Medical Officer for WellNow Urgent Care.
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