What You Need to Know About Sinus Infections and How They Make You FeelCheckable Health
Have you ever experienced a runny or stuffy nose and intense facial pressure? Do you find that it tends to happen during certain times of the year or after exposure to specific allergens? If so, you may be experiencing a sinus infection. Read on to learn what sinuses are, how they can become infected, and some effective ways to relieve those pesky symptoms.
What Are Sinuses?
Sinuses are air-filled sacs within your nasal cavity. There are four sets located in your forehead, cheeks, and nose (ethmoid, maxillary, frontal, and sphenoid). These sacs have a mucosal lining that filters out dust, allergens, and germs. These irritants get caught in the lining and are carried out of the nasal cavity when swallowing or through nose blowing, preventing them from entering your body and lungs.
Symptoms of Sinus Infections
Sometimes these air-filled sacs become infected or inflamed. Several things can cause this reaction. The most common cause is viruses, such as the common cold, but bacteria can also cause sinus infections, and, in rare cases, fungi can be the culprit. Sinus infections are often confused with allergies. While these ailments share similar symptoms, they differ in how they make you feel and how you can treat them.
No matter the infection's cause, most symptoms remain the same. One of the most well-known signs of a sinus infection is facial pressure. When irritated, sinuses become filled with fluid, which can cause intense pressure, typically along the forehead and cheeks. This pressure tends to increase with bending over or movement of the head.
Other symptoms of a sinus infection include the following:
- Post-nasal drip (mucus dripping down the back of the throat)
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat (usually due to irritation from post-nasal drip)
- Tooth pain
- Ear pain or pressure
Some of these symptoms mimic other illnesses. For example, a sore throat and fever can be indicators of strep throat. If you are concerned about strep throat, follow up with your medical provider and learn more about the symptoms of strep throat.
Prevention of Sinus Infections
There are some ways to prevent sinus infections. One of the most effective ways is to have good hand hygiene practices. This is especially true if you have been around someone who is sick or have been outside and around common allergens (trees, flowers, grass, pollen, etc.). Washing your hands (and face!) as soon as possible can help prevent you from introducing allergens and other irritants into your nasal cavity.
Sinus infections themselves are not contagious, but the germs that cause them are. Avoiding someone who is sick and avoiding others when you are sick will help stop the spread of these germs. If you struggle with allergies, using OTC allergy medications, including nasal decongestants, can help prevent allergens from hanging out in your nasal cavity.
Avoiding risk factors is another good way to prevent sinus infections. Below are some of the risk factors that increase your chances of a sinus infection:
- Deviated septum
- Having a weakened immune system
Obviously, not all of these are avoidable. Even the risk factors that are not entirely avoidable can be managed. For example, meeting with your medical provider and developing a solid plan to treat your asthma or allergies can help decrease your risk of frequent sinus infections. If allergies tend to be the main culprit of your sinus infections, your allergist may recommend immunotherapy. If you have a deviated septum and experience frequent or chronic sinus infections, you may want to speak with your doctor about surgical treatment to straighten your nasal passage.
Duration and Treatment
While not enjoyable, sinus infections, thankfully, are often self-limiting, and you can treat them with over-the-counter medications. Symptoms usually last 7-10 days.
Over-the-counter nasal decongestants and antihistamines can help relieve many symptoms associated with sinus infections. These medications can be dehydrating, so it's essential to drink lots of water when taking them. They also have side effects, be sure to follow all instructions found on the packaging or given by your medical provider.
Using a neti-pot with distilled water can help to flush out any allergens or irritants from the nasal cavity. If distilled water is unavailable, use tap water that has been boiled for at least five minutes and then cooled back to room temperature. A sore throat can be one of the most prominent and miserable sinus infection symptoms. If you are interested in natural remedies for sore throat relief, Checkable covers seven great tips!
You should seek medical attention if your symptoms are severe, last longer than ten days, or you experience frequent sinus infections. Your medical provider may want to take a “watchful waiting” approach. This means they wait a few days to see if your symptoms improve on their own before prescribing antibiotics. Sometimes, these infections do not clear up independently and require oral antibiotics or a prescription-strength decongestant. If you experience frequent sinus problems, you may need to see a specialist such as an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) physician (also known as an otolaryngologist) or an allergist. These providers may want to run testing such as CT scans or allergy testing to see if there is a reason for your frequent infections. You may need surgical intervention (such as for a deviated septum). In cases where the cause is severe allergies, your healthcare provider may recommend treatment such as allergy shots.
Other Ways to Relieve Sinus Infection Symptoms
Sinus infection symptoms are usually mild, but that doesn’t mean you must suffer through them. Not all sinus infections require professional medical treatment, and you can treat most of the symptoms with over-the-counter remedies. The following treatment options have been shown to provide relief of sinus infection symptoms:
- Saline nasal spray
- OTC pain medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Drinking lots of water
- Warm compresses on the face
- Humidified air
- Allergy medication
Sinus infections are common and can mimic other ailments. While they typically have a short duration, they can make you feel pretty miserable. There are many ways to treat a sinus infection, and most symptoms can be relieved with over-the-counter treatments such as allergy medications and decongestants. Follow up with a medical provider may be needed for symptoms that last longer than ten days or for frequent episodes. Speak with your provider if you find yourself struggling with sinus infections.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, August 27). Sinus Infection (Sinusitis). https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/sinus-infection.html
Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Sinus Infection (Sinusitis). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17701-sinusitis
Mayo Clinic. (2021, August 27). Acute sinusitis. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acute-sinusitis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351677
Rebecca has been a registered nurse for over 17 years and has experience in emergency care, case management, hospice, and home health. She is the owner of Nurses’ Notes, LLC, a freelance healthcare writing business.
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