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Home > Health Library > Sinusitis
Sinusitis is an infection of the lining of the sinus cavities in your head. It often happens after a cold. It causes pain and pressure in your head and face. Sinusitis can be either acute (sudden) or chronic (long-term). Sinusitis is chronic when it lasts 12 weeks or more.
Sinusitis can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi. When the lining of the sinus cavities gets inflamed from a virus like a cold, it swells. The swelling can block the normal drainage of the sinuses, leading to a buildup of fluid. Bacteria or fungi may start to grow, causing more swelling and pain.
The main symptoms of sinusitis are a runny or stuffy nose and pain and pressure in your head and face. You may also have a yellow or green drainage or drip from your nose or down the back of your throat. Symptoms in children include coughing, nasal discharge, headache, and face pain.
Your doctor can tell if you have sinusitis by asking questions about your past health and doing a physical exam. You probably won't need any other tests. But you may need more tests if treatment doesn't help or if you have complications.
You may not need treatment for sinusitis. But over-the-counter medicine can help with pain and pressure. If you don't get better, your doctor may suggest a steroid nose spray or antibiotics. Surgery is sometimes needed when sinusitis is severe and doesn't get better with medicines.
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Sinusitis can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi.
When the lining of the sinus cavities gets inflamed from a viral infection like a cold, it swells. This is viral sinusitis. The swelling can block the normal drainage of fluid from the sinuses into the nose and throat. If the fluid and mucus can't drain, they build up over time. Bacteria or fungi (plural of fungus) may start to grow in them. These bacterial or fungal infections can cause more swelling and pain.
The same viruses that cause the common cold cause most cases of sinusitis.
Nasal allergies or other problems that block the nasal passages and allow fluid to build up in the sinuses can also lead to sinusitis.
There are several ways you may reduce your chance of getting sinusitis.
This can help you prevent a bacterial infection from developing in your sinuses.
Smoke causes and further irritates inflamed membranes in your nose and sinuses.
Consider talking to your doctor about immunotherapy, such as allergy shots.
Consider using a humidifier at home and work to increase the moisture in the air.
The main symptoms of sinusitis are pain and pressure in the face along with a stuffy or runny nose. Leaning forward or moving your head often increases facial pain and pressure.
Other common symptoms of sinusitis may include:
Sinusitis often develops after a cold or viral infection. Most sinus infections improve on their own, but sometimes they develop into a bacterial infection. Swelling, inflammation, and mucus production caused by the cold can lead to blockage in the nasal passages, which may encourage the growth of bacteria.
There are two types of sinusitis: acute (sudden onset) and chronic (long-term). Acute sinusitis, whether it is viral or bacterial, may develop into chronic inflammation or infections that may last 12 weeks or longer. Chronic sinusitis can lead to permanent changes in the mucous membranes that line the sinuses. As a result of these changes, you may become prone to having more sinus infections that may become harder to treat.
Call your doctor if sinusitis does not improve after 2 days of home treatment and you have symptoms such as:
Watchful waiting is okay if you have symptoms of an early sinus infection (such as pain and pressure in your head along with a stuffy or runny nose). An early sinus infection can often be treated at home if you are in good health. If you develop symptoms of a sinus infection, start home treatment. This includes drinking lots of fluids and breathing steam from a warm shower. Use the guidelines above to decide whether you need to call a doctor.
Your doctor can tell if you have sinusitis by asking questions about your past health and doing a physical exam. You probably won't need any other tests. But you may need more tests if medicine doesn't help. More tests are also needed if you have problems caused by the infection. Tests may include an X-ray or CT scan.
Your doctor may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. This may be needed if you don't get better over time. An ENT specialist will take a closer look at your nasal passages and upper throat. If allergies could be causing your sinus problems, you may need to see an allergist (immunologist).
You may not need treatment for sinusitis. But there are things you can do to feel better. For example, over-the-counter medicine can help with pain and pressure. If you don't get better on your own, your doctor may suggest a steroid nose spray or another type of nose spray. Or you may need antibiotics.
Very few people need surgery to treat sinusitis. In general, it's used only for severe cases that don't get better with medicines. But surgery may be the only way to get an infected sinus to drain as it should.
Medicines may be needed when symptoms of sinusitis are severe or don't improve. You may use more than one medicine. Choices include:
Current as of:
December 2, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Patrice Burgess MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: December 2, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Patrice Burgess MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
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