What Happens If You Don’t Treat a Sinus Infection?

Reviewed on 5/26/2022

X-rays of the sinuses prior to surgery
Complications of a sinus infection that is left untreated or doesn't resolve on its own may include reduced or complete loss of sense of smell, difficulty breathing, laryngitis, inflammation or infection of the tear sac, infection of the eye socket (orbital cellulitis/abscess), cavernous sinus thrombosis (a blood clot at the base of the brain), meningitis, subdural abscess, bone infection in the forehead bone (frontal bone osteomyelitis), and brain abscess.

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

Most of the time, sinus infections go away on their own and no treatment is needed. But in some cases, untreated sinus infections can lead to potentially serious complications.

Complications of an untreated sinus infection may include:

  • Reduced or complete loss of sense of smell
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Laryngitis
  • Inflammation or infection of the tear sac, usually due to blockage of the tear duct (dacryocystitis)
  • Infection of the eye socket (orbital cellulitis/abscess)
  • Cavernous sinus thrombosis
    • A blood clot forms inside the hollow space at the base of the brain that helps drain blood from the brain and face
  • Meningitis
  • Subdural abscess 
  • Bone infection in the forehead bone (frontal bone osteomyelitis)
  • Brain abscess

6 Sinus Infection Treatments & Home Remedies

Viruses usually cause most sinus infections, so a sinus infection is usually treated with home remedies to relieve symptoms. Home remedies to treat sinus infections may include: 

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

Medical treatment for sinus infection may include: 

  • Steroid nasal spray to reduce the swelling in the nose
  • Antibiotics, if symptoms do not improve after 10 days, or symptoms include fever and severe pain

What Are Sinus Infection Symptoms?

Symptoms of an acute sinus infection (acute sinusitis) come on suddenly, last less than eight weeks, occur no more than three times per year, with each occurrence lasting 10 days or less.

Symptoms of an acute sinus infection may include:

Contact a doctor if you have a sinus infection and: 

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

Is a Sinus Infection Contagious?

Sinus infections can be caused by a variety of illnesses.

Causes of sinus infections include:

  • Viruses (most common cause)
    • Viruses that commonly cause sinusitis include:
      • Influenza viruses
      • Rhinoviruses
      • Parainfluenza viruses
  • Bacteria
    • Bacteria that commonly cause sinusitis include:
      • Streptococcus pneumoniae
      • Streptococcus pyogenes
      • Haemophilus influenzae
      • Moraxella catarrhalis
      • Staphylococcus aureus (chronic sinusitis)
      • Anaerobic bacteria (Prevotella and Porphyromonas, Fusobacterium and Peptostreptococcus spp.) (chronic sinusitis)
  • Fungal infection
  • Allergens or pollutants

Viruses are usually spread from person to person when an infected individual coughs or sneezes, by close personal contact with an infected person, and by touching contaminated surfaces and objects. Viruses can also survive on surfaces for several hours and may be transmitted if a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes.

Bacteria can be spread through the air, in the same way as viruses. Bacteria can also be transmitted through poor hygiene and contact with contaminated food, water, or animals.

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Reviewed on 5/26/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/acute-sinusitis-and-rhinosinusitis-in-adults-clinical-manifestations-and-diagnosis?search=sinus%20infection%20symptoms&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1#H99987

https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/for-patients/common-illnesses/sinus-infection.html

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/sinusitis-in-adults-the-basics?search=sinusitis%20treatment&source=search_result&selectedTitle=3~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=3

https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/sinus-infection.html

https://ent-specialist.org/2020/09/02/what-happens-if-you-let-a-sinus-infection-go-untreated/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21364226/