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Sinusitis


Topic Overview

Ear, nose, and throat area

What is sinusitis?

Sinus infections often follow a cold and cause pain and pressure in your head and face.

Sinusitis can be either acute (sudden) or chronic (long-term). With chronic sinusitis, the infection or inflammation does not completely go away for 12 weeks or more.

What causes sinusitis?

Sinusitis can be caused by three things:

  • Viruses.
  • Bacteria.
  • Fungi.

The same viruses that cause the common cold cause most cases of sinusitis.

When the lining of the sinus cavitiesClick here to see an illustration. gets inflamed from a viral infection like a cold, it swells. This is viral sinusitis. The swelling can block the normal drainage of fluid from the sinuses into the nose and throat. If the fluid cannot drain and builds up over time, bacteria or fungi (plural of fungus) may start to grow in it. These bacterial or fungal infections can cause more swelling and pain. They are more likely to last longer, get worse with time, and become chronic.

Nasal allergies or other problems that block the nasal passages and allow fluid to build up in the sinuses can also lead to sinusitis.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptoms of sinusitis are a runny or stuffy nose and pain and pressure in your head and face. You may also have a yellow or green drainage or drip from your nose or down the back of your throat (postnasal discharge). Where you feel the pain and tenderness depends on which sinus is affected.

Other common symptoms of sinusitis may include:

How is sinusitis diagnosed?

Your doctor can tell if you have sinusitis by asking questions about your past health and doing a physical exam. You probably won't need any other tests.

How is it treated?

Viral sinus infections usually go away on their own within 10 to 14 days. Antibiotics don't work for viral infections. But there are some things you can do at home to help relieve your symptoms:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Try over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestant pills to help relieve the pain and pressure in your head and face. (Decongestants can cause problems for people who have certain health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.)
  • Put a hot, damp towel or gel pack on your face for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, several times a day.
  • Breathe warm, moist air from a steamy shower, a hot bath, or a sink filled with hot water.
  • Use saline nose drops and sprays to keep the nasal passages moist and use saline nasal washes to help keep the nasal passages open and wash out mucus and bacteria.

Home treatments may help drain mucus from the sinuses and prevent a more serious bacterial or fungal infection.

Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics. You will probably feel better in a few days, but some symptoms may last for several weeks. You may need to take the medicine for a longer time if you have chronic sinusitis.

If you have a fungal infection—which is not common—antibiotics won't clear up your sinusitis. With this type of infection, you may need treatment with antifungal medicines, steroid medicines, or surgery.

If you have taken antibiotics and other medicines for a long time but still have sinusitis symptoms, you may need surgery. You may also need surgery if the infection is likely to spread or if you have other problems, such as a growth (polyp) blocking the nasal passage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about sinusitis:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Living with sinusitis:

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