What Does the Start of a Sinus Infection Feel Like?

Reviewed on 5/17/2022

Man with a sinus infection and pain lying back on a couch and pinching the top of his nose
The start of a sinus infection usually feels like the common cold, and early cold-like symptoms may include runny or stuffy nose, and pain or pressure in the face (around or under the eyes,; earache, or feeling of fullness in the ears; across the cheekbone; and headache in the temple or behind the eye; around the upper teeth).

A sinus infection (sinusitis) is an inflammation of the sinuses and nasal cavity. 

An acute sinus infection (acute sinusitis) has a sudden onset. It lasts less than eight weeks, or happens no more than three times per year, with each occurrence lasting 10 days or less.

Sinus Infection Warning Signs & Symptoms

The start of a sinus infection usually feels like the common cold, and early cold-like symptoms may include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Pain or pressure feeling in the face
    • Around or under the eye(s)
    • Earache, or feeling of fullness in the ears
    • Across the cheekbone
    • Headache in the temple or behind the eye
    • Around the upper teeth

Other symptoms of a sinus infection include:

Contact a doctor if you have a sinus infection and: 

  • Symptoms are severe
  • Headache or facial pain is severe
  • Symptoms improve and then worse again
  • Symptoms last more than 10 days 
  • Fever lasts longer than 4 days
  • You’ve had multiple sinus infections in the past year

What Causes a Sinus Infection?

Sinus infections are caused by:

  • Viruses (most common cause)
  • Bacteria
  • Allergens or pollutants
  • Fungal infection

Viruses and some bacteria that cause sinus infections may be contagious

Risk factors for developing sinus infections include:

  • Medical conditions that weaken the immune system
  • Use of medications that weaken the immune system
  • Smoking
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Older age
  • Frequent air travel
  • Exposure to atmospheric pressure changes (for example, deep sea diving)
  • Dental disease
  • Structural problems with the sinuses
  • Swimming

What Is the Treatment for a Sinus Infection?

The most common cause of sinus infections is viruses so a sinus infection is usually treated with home remedies to relieve symptoms. Home remedies to treat sinus infections may include: 

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers to reduce pain
  • Decongestants or saline nasal sprays
    • Talk to your child’s pediatrician before giving pain medicines, decongestants, or any cough and cold medicines to children
  • Rinse the nose and sinuses with salt water a few times a day 
  • Warm compresses over the nose and forehead to help relieve sinus pressure
  • Inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water or shower

If home remedies do not relieve symptoms, a steroid nasal spray may be prescribed in some cases to reduce the swelling in the nose. 

If symptoms of a sinus infection do not improve after 10 days, or you have symptoms include fever and severe pain, antibiotics may be needed. 


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Reviewed on 5/17/2022
Image Source: iStock Images