©2018 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved. eMedicineHealth does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See Additional Information.

Symptoms and Signs of Sinus Infection (Sinusitis)

Doctor's Notes on Sinus Infection (Sinusitis) Symptoms, Signs, Causes, Remedies, Antibiotics, and Cure

A sinus infection is an infection of the sinus infection is inflammation of the hollow air cavities (sinuses) within skull that are connected to the nasal passages. A sinus infection may be acute (coming on suddenly) or may be chronic, meaning it persists over the long term. Viruses that cause common colds may also cause inflamed sinuses, and bacterial infections are also causes of sinusitis. Rarely, fungal infections may cause the condition.

Symptoms and signs of a sinus infection include a headache that may worsen when bending down, feelings of pressure or pain in the sinuses, and swelling or tenderness of the face. Other associated symptoms can include fever, chills, nasal congestion, cloudy nasal discharge, cough, sore throat, and eye or tooth pain.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Sinus Infection (Sinusitis) Symptoms, Signs, Causes, Remedies, Antibiotics, and Cure Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of sinus infections depend upon the sinuses that are affected, and whether the sinus infection is acute or chronic.

Sinus Infection Symptoms and Signs

  1. Stuffy nose or congestion
  2. Runny nose (mucus may be yellowish or greenish in color)
  3. Postnasal drip
  4. Tooth discomfort or pain
  5. Loss of sense of smell
  6. Ear pain, pressure, or fullness
  7. Headache
  8. Bad breath
  9. Hearing loss
  10. Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  11. Facial pain, tenderness, or pressure in the area of the sinuses
  12. Fever
  13. Fatigue
  14. Cough
  15. Sore throat

Acute Sinusitis Symptoms

  1. Nasal congestion with discharge
  2. Nasal drainage that may be clear or whitish in color
  3. Postnasal drip (mucus drips down the throat behind the nose) often accompanied by a sore throat
  4. Pain across the cheekbone, under or around the eye, or around the upper teeth
  5. Ear pain or earache
  6. Headache in the temple or surrounding or behind the eye
  7. Pain or pressure symptoms are worse when coughing or straining
  8. Fever is common
  9. Pain or pressure on one or both sides of the face
  10. Facial swelling
  11. Dizziness
  12. Itchy throat
  13. Sneezing

Chronic Sinusitis Symptoms

Chronic sinusitis may have many of the same symptoms as acute sinusitis, but the symptoms last longer or are more severe. In addition, people with chronic sinusitis may also experience multiple symptoms, for example:

  1. Pain that is worse in the late morning or when wearing glasses
  2. Pain and pressure in the face worsens when leaning forward
  3. Chronic sore throat and bad breath
  4. Chronic toothache or increased tooth sensitivity
  5. Increased facial discomfort throughout the day with increased cough at night

Home care can help relieve sinus infection or sinusitis symptoms, open the sinuses, and alleviate dryness.

Home Remedies to Promote Drainage

  • Drink plenty of water and hydrating beverages such as hot tea.
  • Inhale steam two to four times per day by leaning over a bowl of hot water (not while the water is on the stove) or using a steam vaporizer. Inhale the steam for about 10 minutes. Taking a hot, steamy shower may also work. Mentholated preparations, such as Vicks Vapo-Rub, can be added to the water or vaporizer to aid in opening the passageways.

OTC Medications to Thin Mucus

Expectorants are medications that help expel mucus from the lungs and respiratory passages. They help thin mucous secretions, enhancing drainage from the sinuses. The most common is guaifenesin (contained in Robitussin and Mucinex). OTC sinus medications also can combine decongestants and cough suppressants to reduce symptoms and eliminate the need for the use of many prescription medications. Read label ingredients to find the right combination of ingredients or ask the pharmacist.

OTC Medications to Relieve Pain

Pain medication such as ibuprofen (Motrin and Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) can reduce pain and inflammation. These medications help to open the airways by reducing swelling. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be used for pain and fever but does not help with inflammation.

Nasal Saline Irrigation

There are several methods of nasal irrigation, and a popular sinus remedy is the Neti-pot, a ceramic pot that looks like a cross between a small teapot and Aladdin's magic lamp.

  • Some ENT physicians recommend nasal irrigation with a Neti-pot to help clear crusting in the nasal passages. Many people with chronic sinus symptoms use the Neti-pot to alleviate congestion, facial pain and pressure, and reduce the need for antibiotics and nasal sprays.
  • Before using nasal saline irrigation, discuss it with your health-care professional.

Sterile saline nasal sprays also can be used to irrigate the sinuses, and are available at most pharmacies.

Sinus Infection (Sinusitis) Symptoms, Signs, Causes, Remedies, Antibiotics, and Cure Causes

Causes of Acute Sinus Infections

  • Acute sinusitis usually follows a viral infection in the upper respiratory tract, but allergy-causing substances (allergens) or pollutants may also trigger acute sinusitis. A Viral infection damages the cells of the sinus lining, leading to inflammation. The lining thickens, obstructing the nasal passage. This passage connects to the sinuses. The obstruction disrupts the process that removes bacteria normally present in the nasal passages, and the bacteria begin to multiply and invade the lining of the sinus. This causes the symptoms of sinus infection. Allergens and pollutants produce a similar effect.
  • Bacteria that normally cause acute sinusitis are Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, and Moraxella catarrhalis. These microorganisms, along with Staphylococcus aureus and some anaerobes (bacteria that live without oxygen), are involved in chronic sinusitis.

Causes of Chronic Sinus Infections

  • Chronic sinus infections are caused by viruses, bacteria, allergens, pollutants, and fungal infections, especially people with diseases that weaken the immune system, for example, HIV/AIDS, leukemia and other cancers, and diabetes.
  • Medications that are designed to modify the immune system may increase the risk of developing sinus infections.

Sinus Infection (Sinusitis) Symptoms & Treatment Slideshow

Sinus Infection (Sinusitis) Symptoms & Treatment Slideshow

Sinus problems and sinus-related symptoms are common reasons people see their doctors. Symptoms include pain in the forehead or between the eyes, toothache, feeling of fullness in the mid-face, stuffy nose, and congestion.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.