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Sinus Infection (Sinusitis)

Español: Infección de los senos paranasales (sinusitis)

Overview of a Sinus Infection

Sinusitis, or a sinus infection, occurs when the sinuses and nasal passages become inflamed. If you or your child is diagnosed with sinusitis, the infection does not need to be treated with antibiotics unless you or your child has acute bacterial sinusitis, which is caused by bacteria. Acute bacterial sinusitis can last up to 4 weeks and subacute bacterial sinusitis can last 4 to 12 weeks, occurring less than 4 times per year.

Acute viral sinusitis, caused by a virus, typically lasts for less than 4 weeks and occurs less than 3 times per year. Acute viral sinusitis usually occurs after having an upper respiratory infection.

Chronic sinusitis typically lasts more than 4 weeks and occurs more than 4 times per year. If you are diagnosed with chronic sinusitis, you should visit a specialist for evaluation. Chronic sinusitis can be caused by nasal polyps or tumors, allergies, or respiratory tract infections (viral, bacterial, or fungal), among other reasons.

Causes of a Sinus Infection

  • Most sinus infections are caused by a virus
  • Sinus infections are rarely caused by bacteria
  • Other causes of sinusitis include:
    • Allergies
    • Pollutants (airborne chemicals or irritants)
    • Fungal infections
    • Structural problems within the nasal cavity
    • A weak immune system

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Signs and Symptoms of a Sinus Infection

  • Headaches
  • Nasal congestion/discharge
  • Postnasal drip (mucus drips down the throat from the nose)
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Bad breath

See a Healthcare Provider if You or Your Child has:

  • Temperature higher than 100.4° F
  • Symptoms that last more than 10 days
  • Multiple episodes of sinusitis in the past year
  • Symptoms that are not relieved with over-the-counter medicines

Your healthcare provider can determine if you or your child has sinusitis and if treatment is needed. If your child is younger than three months of age and has a fever, it’s important to always call your healthcare provider right away.


Antibiotics are Needed When…

Sometimes antibiotics may be needed if the sinus infection is likely to be caused by bacteria. By asking about your symptoms and doing a physical examination, a healthcare provider can determine if you or your child needs antibiotics.

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Antibiotics Will Not Help if…

When sinusitis is caused by a virus or irritation in the air (like cigarette smoke), antibiotics will not help it get better. Acute sinusitis will almost always get better on its own. It is better to wait and take antibiotics only when they are needed. Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can be harmful, and may lead to unwanted side effects like diarrhea, rashes, nausea, and stomach pain. More severe side effects may rarely occur, including life-threatening allergic reactions, kidney toxicity, and severe skin reactions.

Each time you or your child takes an antibiotic, the bacteria that normally live in your body (on the skin, in the intestine, in the mouth and nose, etc.) are more likely to become resistant to antibiotics. Common antibiotics cannot kill infections caused by these resistant germs. Learn more about antibiotic resistance.

If symptoms continue for more than 10 days, schedule a follow-up appointment with a healthcare provider for re-evaluation to avoid any complications.


How to Feel Better

Rest, over-the-counter medicines and other self-care methods may help you or your child feel better. For more information about symptomatic relief, visit the Symptom Relief section of this website or talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist. Remember, always use over-the-counter products as directed. Many over-the-counter products are not recommended for children younger than certain ages.


Preventing a Sinus Infection

  • Practice good hand hygiene
  • Keep you and your child up to date with recommended immunizations
  • Avoid close contact with people who have colds or other upper respiratory infections
  • Avoid smoking or exposure to second hand smoke and do not expose children to second hand smoke
  • Use a clean humidifier to moisten the air at home

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