Sinus Infection (Sinusitis)

Español: Infección de los senos paranasales (sinusitis)

Stuffy nose that just isn’t getting better? You might have a sinus infection, also called sinusitis

Antibiotics are not needed for many sinus infections, but your doctor can decide if you need an antibiotic.

Causes

Sinus infections happen when fluid builds up in the air-filled pockets in the face (sinuses), which allows germs to grow. Viruses cause most sinus infections, but bacteria can cause some sinus infections.

Sinus Infection
A person with inflamed sinuses might have an obstructed sinus opening and fluid in the sinuses.

When you have a sinus infection, one or more of your sinuses becomes inflamed and fluid builds up, causing congestion and runny nose.

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase your risk of getting a sinus infection:

  • A previous cold
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Structural problems within the sinuses (such as growths on the lining of the nose or sinuses, known as nasal polyps)
  • A weak immune system or taking drugs that weaken the immune system

Symptoms

Common symptoms of sinus infections include:

  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Facial pain or pressure
  • Headache
  • Mucus dripping down the throat (post-nasal drip)
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Bad breath

baby icon See a doctor right away if your child is younger than 3 months old and has a fever of 100.4 °F (38 °C) or higher.

When to Seek Medical Care

See a doctor if you have:

  • Severe symptoms, such as severe headache or facial pain.
  • Symptoms that get worse after initially improving.
  • Symptoms lasting more than 10 days without improvement.
  • Fever longer than 3-4 days.

You should also seek medical care if you have had multiple sinus infections in the past year.

This list is not all-inclusive. Please see a doctor for any symptom that is severe or concerning.

Other conditions can cause symptoms similar to a sinus infection, including:

  • Seasonal allergies
  • Colds

Treatment

Your doctor will determine if you have a sinus infection by asking about symptoms and doing a physical examination.

Antibiotics are not needed for many sinus infections. Most sinus infections usually get better on their own without antibiotics. When antibiotics aren’t needed, they won’t help you, and their side effects could still cause harm. Side effects can range from minor issues, like a rash, to very serious health problems, such as antibiotic-resistant infections and C. diff infection, which causes diarrhea that can lead to severe colon damage and death.

However, in some cases, antibiotics are needed. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment for your illness.

For some sinus infections, your doctor might recommend watchful waiting or delayed antibiotic prescribing.

  • Watchful waiting: Your child’s doctor may suggest watching and waiting to see if your child needs antibiotics. This gives the immune system time to fight off the infection. If your child doesn’t feel better after 2–3 days of rest, extra fluids, and pain relievers, the doctor may write a prescription for an antibiotic.
  • Delayed prescribing: Your child’s doctor may give an antibiotic prescription but suggest that you wait 2–3 days to see if your child is still sick before filling it.

How to Feel Better

Below are some ways you help relive sinus pain and pressure:

  • Put a warm compress over the nose and forehead to help relieve sinus pressure.
  • Use a decongestant or saline nasal spray.
  • Breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water or shower.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist about over-the-counter medicines that can help you feel better. Always use over-the-counter medicines as directed.

Over-the-Counter Medicine and Children

Be careful about giving over-the-counter medicines to children. Not all over-the-counter medicines are recommended for children of certain ages.

  • Pain relievers:
    • Children younger than 6 months: only give acetaminophen.
    • Children 6 months or older: it is OK to give acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
    • Never give aspirin to children because it can cause Reye’s syndrome, a rare but very serious illness that harms the liver and brain.
  • Cough and cold medicines:
    • Children younger than 4 years old: do not use unless a doctor specifically tells you to. Use of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines in young children can result in serious and potentially life-threatening side effects.
    • Children 4 years or older: discuss with your child’s doctor if over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are safe to give to your child for temporary symptom relief.

Be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist about the right dosage of over-the-counter medicines for your child’s age and size. Also, tell your child’s doctor and pharmacist about all prescription and over-the-counter medicines they are taking.

If you are considering using a sinus rinse, visit Sinus Rinsing for Health or Religious Practice for how to do so safely.

Prevention

You can help prevent sinus infections by doing your best to stay healthy and keep others healthy, including:

  • Clean your hands.
  • Receive recommended vaccines, such as the flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine.
  • Avoid close contact with people who have colds or other upper respiratory infections.
  • Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Use a clean humidifier to moisten the air at home.