HIGHLIGHTS

Open
Grocery Coupons

Grocery Coupons

Members can print free savings coupons

Brain Health Center

Brain Health Center

Learn how to live smart and stay sharp

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle

Members save on e-
readers and tablets

Caring for loved ones?

Caring for loved ones?

Find the resources you need

Sinusitis Learning Center

  • Enlarge
  • Print
  • Recommend

Sinusitis

Sinuses and Sinus Infections: The Basics

A sinus infection, or sinusitis, is a common condition that affects 31 million people in the United States each year. The infection occurs when your sinuses and nasal passages become inflamed.

The 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.

Excess 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 do not improve within a few weeks, you likely have a bacterial infection and should schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Types of Sinus Infections

Acute sinusitis

Acute 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 weeks.

Sub-Acute Sinusitis

Sub-acute sinusitis symptoms can last for up to three months. This condition is most often linked to bacterial infections or seasonal allergies.

Chronic Sinusitis

Chronic sinusitis symptoms last for more than three months, but they are often less severe. Bacteria are generally not to blame in these cases. Chronic sinusitis is most commonly attributed to persistent allergies or structural nasal problems.

Risk Factors for a Sinus Infection

Anyone can develop a sinus infection. However, certain other health conditions and risk factors can increase your chances of developing one, including:

  • a deviated nasal septum (when the wall of tissue that divides your nostrils is displaced to one side)
  • a nasal bone spur (a bone growth in the nose)
  • nasal polyps (noncancerous growths in the nose)
  • a history of allergies
  • recent exposure to mold
  • a recent upper respiratory infection
  • cystic fibrosis, which causes thick mucus to build up in your lungs
  • airplane travel, which can expose you high concentrations of germs and germs that are not native to your home region
  • a dental infection
  • a weak immune system
  • smoking, which can irritate the lining of your nasal passages

Symptoms of a Sinus Infection

The symptoms of sinusitis are similar to those of a common cold. They may include:

  • decreased sense of smell
  • fever
  • stuffy nose
  • headache (from sinus pressure or tension)
  • fatigue
  • sore throat
  • runny nose
  • cough

It may be difficult for parents to detect a sinus infection in their children. Signs that can help parents recognize an infection include:

  • cold or allergy symptoms that do not improve within 14 days
  • a high fever (above 102.2 degrees F)
  • thick, dark mucus coming from the nose for longer than 72 hours
  • a cough that lasts longer than 10 days

Symptoms of acute, sub-acute, and chronic sinus infections are similar. However, the severity and length of your symptoms will vary.

Diagnosing a Sinus Infection

To diagnose a sinus infection, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and do a physical exam. He or she 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.

In 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. The following tests can be used to help determine the cause of chronic sinus infections:

  • CT scan (an imaging test that provides a three-dimensional picture of your sinuses)
  • MRI (an imaging test that uses powerful magnets to create images of internal structures)
  • a fiberoptic scope (a flexible tube that is passed through your nose and records images of your sinuses)
  • an allergy test to identify irritants that may cause an allergic reaction
  • a blood test to check for diseases that weaken the immune system, such as HIV

How to Treat a Sinus Infection

Treatment for Congestion

Congestion 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 keep you 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, such as Neo-Synephrine

Pain Remedies

A 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.

Antibiotics

If your symptoms do not improve within a few weeks, you likely have a bacterial infection and should see your doctor. He or she may give you an antibiotic to help you fight the infection if you have:

  • a runny nose, congestion, or a cough that does not improve after three weeks
  • facial pain or headaches
  • eye swelling
  • a fever

If you are given an antibiotic, you must take it for three to 14 days, depending on your doctor’s instructions. Do not stop taking your medication early, as this can make the infection come back.

Your doctor will schedule another visit to monitor your condition. If your sinus infection does not 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.

Surgery

Surgery to clear the sinuses, repair a deviated septum, or remove polyps may help if your chronic sinus infection does not improve with time and medication.

Preventing Sinus Infections

Because sinus infections can develop after a cold, the flu, or an 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 every year
  • eat healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables
  • wash your hands regularly
  • limit your exposure to smoke, chemicals, pollen, and other allergens
  • take antihistamine medication to treat allergies and colds

Long-Term Outlook

Sinus 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 polyps.

If 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)
  • osteomyelitis (a severe bone infection)
Content licensed from:

Written by: Valencia Higuera
Published on Jul 25, 2012
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
health
TOOLS
Condition & Treatment Search
Symptom Search
Drug Search

 

 

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Denny's Ranchero Tilapia

Members save 15% all day, every day when dining at participating Denny's restaurants.

Member Benefit AARP Regal 2

Members pay $8 for Regal ePremiere tickets purchased online. Conditions apply.

Woman holding smartphone in city, Google map tool

Members can locate discounts via the AARP® Member Advantages Offer Finder mobile app.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points

AARP FIGHTS FOR YOU
ADVOCACY & PROGRAMS

African American, Asian Community Page

AARP In Your Corner

Visit Black Community, Español  and Asian Community pages.

AARP Drivers Safety logo

Driver Safety Program

Register at a location near you to keep your driving skills sharp. 

Create the Good

Create The Good 

Find opportunities to volunteer in your neighborhood. 

AARP Drive to End Hunger Logo

Drive to End Hunger

NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon teams up with AARP Foundation. 

 

Green Dot Prepaid Card

Prepaid MasterCard

AARP Foundation Prepaid MasterCard brought to you by Green Dot.

Most Popular

Viewed

Nothing has been viewed