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All About Sinus Infections - What You Need to Know

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Updated October 24, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What is it?

Sinusitis a term to describe swelling or inflammation in the sinuses, which are located behind, above, below and between the eyes. It is more commonly known as a sinus infection.

How do you get it?

Sinusitis occurs when the sinuses are filled with mucus that does not drain or becomes infected. Normally sinuses are sterile, but they become swollen and infected when a person is congested and the mucous gets stuck there. A sinus infection can be caused by a bacteria, virus or fungus. They typically occur after a cold or upper respiratory infection.

Acute sinus infections can last up to 4 weeks and chronic sinus infections can last 3-4 months.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a sinus infection include:

  • Pain or pressure in the face, especially around the eyes and nose
  • Bad breath or loss of sense of smell
  • Congestion
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Weakness or feeling tired
  • Sore Throat
  • Cough that may be worse at night

Symptoms of a chronic sinus infection can be similar but are less severe than with an acute sinus infection.

You may not experience all of these symptoms, but they are the most common. If you have questions or are concerned, contact your healthcare provider.

What are the treatments?

Once you see your doctor and are diagnosed with sinusitis, he or she may recommend several treatments for you. If your doctor determines that the infection is caused by bacteria, he may recommend:

  • Antibiotics - not always prescribed as many sinus infections clear up on their own even when caused by bacteria
  • Decongestants
  • Expectorants
  • Pain relievers
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Inhale steam (such as sitting in the bathroom with the hot shower running) 2-4 times per day and use a humidifier
  • Use saline spray
  • Use a Neti pot or saline rinse to flush the sinuses
  • Nasal decongestant sprays (do not use for more than 3 days)

If your sinusitis is caused by a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. It will eventually clear up on its own, but you can use some of the recommendations stated above to relieve your symptoms.

How long will it last?

Sinus infections should clear up within about 2 weeks - typically with or without treatment. If your symptoms worsen or don't go away, contact your health care provider.

Chronic sinus infections can last for months. If treatment fails to relieve your symptoms, referral to a specialist (ENT) may be necessary to determine what other treatment options are available.

How can I prevent sinusitis?

There are several things you can do to help prevent sinus infections. If you have allergies, you may be more prone to sinus infections than other people. Follow these tips to minimize your risk:

  • Keep your home humidified. A cool mist humidifier will help keep nasal passages moist and less likely to swell.
  • Use Air conditioning. This will keep your house at an even temperature.
  • Do not smoke. Smokers and those exposed to smoke are at an increased risk of developing infections.
  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Treat your allergies.
  • Take decongestants if you have a cold or upper respiratory infection.
  • Wash your hands frequently.

Sources:

Sinusitis. MedlinePlus 22 Mar 13. US National Library of Medicine. Department of Health and Human Services. 24 Oct 13.

 

 

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