Sinus Infection (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). This fluid buildup allows germs to grow. Viruses cause most sinus infections, but bacteria can cause some sinus infections.

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. For example, 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
Sinus Infection
Sinus Infection

When you have a sinus infection, one or more of your sinuses becomes inflamed. Fluid builds up, which can cause congestion and runny nose.

baby icon Talk to a healthcare professional right away if your child is under 3 months old with 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 improving.
  • Symptoms lasting more than 10 days without getting better.
  • 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 examining you.

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 mild reactions, like a rash, to more serious health problems. These problems can include severe allergic reactions, antibiotic-resistant infections and C. diff infection. C. diff causes diarrhea that can lead to severe colon damage and death.

However, in some cases, you may need antibiotics. 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 doctor may suggest watching and waiting for 2-3 days to see if you need antibiotics. This gives the immune system time to fight off the infection. If your symptoms don’t improve, the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.
  • Delayed prescribing: Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic but suggest that you wait 2–3 days before filling the prescription. You may recover on your own and may not need the antibiotic.

How to Feel Better

Below are some ways to help relieve 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.

Visit Sinus Rinsing for Health or Religious Practice for information on how to safely use a sinus rinse.

Over-the-Counter Medicine and Children

Carefully read and follow instructions on over-the-counter medicine product labels before giving medicines to children. Some over-the-counter medicines are not 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. Reye’s syndrome is a very serious, but rare illness that can harm the liver and brain.
  • Cough and cold medicines:
    • Children younger than 4 years old: do not use over-the-counter cough and cold medicines in young children unless a doctor specifically tells you to. Cough and cold medicines can result in serious and sometimes life-threatening side effects in young children.
    • 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.

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.

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.