Understanding the Side Effects of Antibiotics for Sinus Infection Treatment

Sinus infections are also known as sinusitis or rhinosinusitis. Viruses, allergens, or bacteria can cause a sinus infection. If you have a viral sinus infection or one caused by allergies, your healthcare provider will not prescribe antibiotics, as they do not treat viruses. If your healthcare provider diagnoses you with a bacterial sinus infection, they will prescribe antibiotics. Below, let's review bacterial sinus infection symptoms, typical side effects of antibiotics, and any lifestyle changes you should make while on antibiotics.

What Are the Symptoms of a Bacterial Sinus Infection?

Viruses contribute to most sinus infections; however, there are some cases when bacteria is the cause. It can be difficult to differentiate the symptoms, so seeing a healthcare provider is important if you think you have a sinus infection. Some common bacterial sinus infection symptoms include the following:

  • Facial pain, pressure, or tenderness
  • Congestion or post-nasal drainage
  • Headache
  • Fatigue or feeling tired
  • Cough
  • Ear pain
  • Lymph node inflammation of the neck and/or face

Some viral upper respiratory tract infections or colds can turn into bacterial sinusitis. Usually, you'll experience worsening symptoms at around five days instead of improving, or you won't see any improvement in seven to ten days from the start of feeling sick. However, again, it's important to see a healthcare provider so that they can determine the cause.

What Are the Most Common Side Effects of Antibiotics for a Sinus Infection?

If your healthcare provider diagnoses you with a bacterial sinus infection, you will receive a prescription for antibiotics. Some people experience some of these common side effects from taking antibiotics:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Mild, antibiotic-induced rash
  • Yeast infections

If you are taking over-the-counter medications or have any medical conditions, report these as well. Many medicines have interactions with antibiotics. Antibiotics, in rare cases, can cause severe allergic reactions, difficulty breathing, or C. diff infections. A C. diff infection is when the bacteria, C. diff, has taken over your gut. This reaction usually occurs when there are not enough good bacteria in your intestinal tract. Taking the incorrect antibiotics or antibiotics to treat an infection when it's not warranted can also lead to antibiotic resistance.

How Do You Feel When Taking Antibiotics for a Sinus Infection?

When you begin taking antibiotics, you should start to feel better after a few days. You should experience little to no side effects. If your symptoms worsen or you develop any side effects, you should see a healthcare provider immediately.

You can also help relieve symptoms by taking over-the-counter medications and treatments. To reduce pain, take medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Try decongestants to relieve nasal congestion, or use a humidifier to moisten the air.

How Long Does It Typically Take for Antibiotics to Start Working for a Sinus Infection?

As viruses cause most sinus infections, antibiotics will not help your symptoms improve. If you have viral sinusitis, symptoms will start to improve after five to seven days. If your healthcare provider determines you have bacterial sinusitis, they will start you on antibiotics. Usually, the antibiotics will start working within three to five days of starting the medication.

Are There Any Lifestyle Changes I Should Make While Taking Antibiotics for a Sinus Infection?

There are a few lifestyle changes you should make while taking antibiotics. You can use these to prevent possible side effects.

  • Take your antibiotic as directed, with or without food.
  • Consider taking a probiotic to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
  • Avoid certain foods, such as grapefruit or dairy products.
  • Some antibiotics, such as doxycycline, state you should avoid sun exposure while taking them.
  • Wash your hands frequently.

Always ensure you are following your healthcare provider and pharmacist's instructions. To help alleviate symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend the following:

  • Try an over-the-counter decongestant. Before starting, ask your healthcare provider since this can elevate your blood pressure.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen, for inflammation.
  • Apply a warm washcloth to your face to help alleviate the pain.
  • Try a saline nasal spray to help loosen congestion.
  • Use a humidifier to moisten the air. Dry air can sometimes make your symptoms worse.

Are There Any Foods I Should Avoid While Taking Antibiotics for a Sinus Infection?

When taking antibiotics, there are certain foods you should avoid

  • Dairy products: Milk and dairy products interfere with some antibiotics.
  • Alcohol: This beverage interacts with many antibiotics and can lead to unwanted side effects.
  • Citrus fruits: Avoid citrus fruits, especially grapefruit, since they can interact with antibiotics.
  • Dietary supplements: Calcium and other dietary supplements can reduce the effectiveness of the antibiotic or vice versa.

Always report what medications and supplements you are taking to your healthcare provider. If you are taking antibiotics for a bacterial sinus infection, try some of these tips today to reduce potential side effects. Seek immediate attention from a healthcare provider if new symptoms develop, or your symptoms worsen.


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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.