How to Prevent Sinus Infections

A sinus infection, also called sinusitis or rhinosinusitis, is a common reason people visit their healthcare provider in the United States. Symptoms of a sinus infection typically include facial pain or sensitivity, nasal congestion, headaches, fatigue, cough, and/or ear pain. Below, we'll review sinus infections, their common causes, preventative measures, and what to do if you have a sinus infection.

Most Common Causes of Sinus Infections

Several things can cause sinus infections. The most common cause of sinus infections is viruses; symptoms usually occur with a cold. However, in some cases, sinusitis is from allergies, fungi, bacteria, or other irritants. Common allergies and irritants are outdoor pollen, dust, smoke, or pet dander.

As mentioned, viruses or viral upper respiratory infections (URIs) cause most cases of sinusitis. Viral URIs are what cause common colds, influenza, etc. Viruses typically do not require antibiotic treatment and will resolve independently. However, some cases of viral URIs worsen and turn into bacterial sinusitis. Usually, you'll know this because symptoms will worsen during the course of your cold, or they won't improve after about 7-10 days. Bacterial sinusitis requires the use of antibiotics.

Preventive Measures

You can take several steps to potentially prevent getting a sinus infection. Below are some examples:

  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after touching your face, coughing, or blowing your nose.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke and don't smoke.
  • Try to avoid environmental allergens or irritants that you know make you sneeze or cough, such as pet dander.
  • Use a humidifier. You want to avoid dry air since this can dry out your sinuses.
  • If someone around you has a cold or other URI, try to avoid close contact with them until their symptoms have resolved. If you're caring for them, ensure to wash your hands frequently.
  • Since viruses like influenza can cause a sinus infection, stay current on recommended vaccines.

Several risk factors make you more susceptible to getting a sinus infection. These include the following:

  • A recent cold or URI increases your likelihood of developing a sinus infection.
  • Seasonal allergies or allergies are risk factors. Ensure you see an allergy doctor and abide by their guidelines for preventing sinus infections caused by allergies.
  • If you're around someone who smokes or you smoke, chances are higher that you can develop a sinus infection.
  • Sometimes people have structural issues in their sinuses, which prevent them from properly draining. If you have a deviated septum or nasal polyps, this can increase your likelihood of developing recurrent or chronic sinusitis.
  • If you have a weakened immune system, have conditions that weaken your immune system, or are receiving chemotherapy, you are more likely to get an infection. So ensure you are taking the proper steps to reduce your likelihood.

What Should I Do If I Think I May Have a Sinus Infection?

If you think you have a sinus infection, it's important to see a healthcare provider. They can help you determine the cause of your infection, such as a virus, allergies, or bacteria. As mentioned, viruses cause most sinus infections, so in most cases, your healthcare provider won't prescribe an antibiotic. Usually, management involves over-the-counter remedies and waiting to see if your symptoms improve.

Regardless of the cause of your sinus infection, these are some remedies that you can try to relieve symptoms and keep them under control:

  • Try an over-the-counter decongestant that has pseudoephedrine in it. Before taking it, ask your healthcare provider if this is alright. People with high blood pressure should avoid or use caution when taking oral decongestants since they can increase their blood pressure.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen, for inflammation.
  • Try nasal saline sprays to help with unclogging your congestion. If you prefer using Afrin nasal spray, speak to a healthcare provider before using it since it can cause rebound congestion and worsening symptoms.
  • Try a humidifier to moisten the air. As mentioned, dry air can cause a sinus infection or worsen symptoms.
  • Antihistamines can help with congestion and other symptoms if you are diagnosed with allergic sinusitis.
  • Using over-the-counter steroid nasal sprays can also help with inflammation if you have allergic or recurrent sinus infections.

If your healthcare provider determines the cause of your sinusitis is bacterial, they will typically prescribe antibiotics. The course is anywhere from five to ten days, depending on the severity of your symptoms and if it's recurrent or not. If you keep having sinus infections, your healthcare provider may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT doctor). They can help look for structural abnormalities potentially causing recurrent sinus infections or offer treatment for chronic sinusitis.

If you have a cold, follow these instructions to prevent potentially getting a sinus infection. Even though viruses most commonly cause sinus infections, seeing a healthcare provider is necessary to help you determine the cause. In addition, keep any follow-up appointment or referral and seek immediate attention from a healthcare provider if symptoms worsen.


Battisti, A.S., Modi, P., & Pangia, J. (2023, March 2). Sinusitis. StatPearls [Internet].

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, August 27). Sinus infection (sinusitis).

Thomas, M., & Bomar, P.A. (2022, June 27). Upper respiratory tract infection. StatPearls [Internet].

Wahidah, N.W.B., & Shermetaro, C. (2022, September 5). Rhinitis Medicamentosa. StatPearls [Internet].

Amanda Marten

Amanda Marten MSN, FNP-C is a freelance nurse writer and a certified family nurse practitioner. With ten years of nursing experience, she has worked in a variety of specialties including urgent care, travel nursing, post-surgical, and intensive care. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, outdoor activities, and spending time with her friends and family.