Acute sinusitis is often caused by an infection. It may be viral, bacterial, or fungal (rare). Chronic sinusitis may happen in people who are at higher risk of infection. It may also be due to irritation from contaminants in the air like smoking, pollution, or allergens.
Factors that may increase the chance of sinusitis include:
Nasal congestion not responding well to either decongestants or antihistamines
Runny nose or postnasal drip
Thick, yellow, or green mucus
Ear pain, pressure, or fullness
Symptoms seem to improve then suddenly get worse over a few weeks
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor can diagnose sinusitis based on its symptoms and exam. More tests may be done if sinusitis is not responding to treatment or keeps coming back. Tests may include:
of the sinuses to look for fluid in the sinus
Endoscopic examination of the sinuses—threading a tiny, lighted tube into the nasal cavities to view the sinus opening
Most sinus infections will pass on their own in 7 to 10 days. Home care and medicine can help to manage symptoms.
Infections that last longer or keep coming back may need more care.
Congestion in the nasal and sinus passages cause pressure and pain. It can be loosened with:
Drinking throughout the day
Nasal and sinus washes
Steam treatments—such as use of humidifier or inhaling steam from bowl of hot water
Medicine may help manage symptoms until the sinusitis passes. Options may include:
Over-the-counter pain relievers.
Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
Antihistamines—if allergies are related
Corticosteroids nose spray—may decrease swelling in the lining of the nose caused by allergies
Decongestants—to shrink nasal passages. Do not use nasal sprays for longer than 3 to 4 days in a row.
Antibiotics are only effective for some sinus infections. They may be recommended if a sinus infection lasts longer than expected or keeps coming back.
The doctor may recommend surgery if sinusitis keeps coming back or is severe. Types of surgery that may help are:
Repair of a deviated septum
Removal of nasal polyps
Functional endoscopic sinus surgery—enlarge the sinuses to improve drainage
Balloon sinuplasty—to open the sinus passages
To help reduce the chance of sinusitis:
Learn how to treat allergies.
Avoid allergens when possible
Stick with allergy treatment plan
Drink lots of fluids when a cold is present.
Use sinus washes as directed.
Blow nose gently.
Use a nasal spray decongestant to decrease inflammation while traveling by air. Take it prior to takeoff and landing.
Acute sinusitis in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T902952/Acute-sinusitis-in-adults. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Acute sinusitis in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T902949/Acute-rhinosinusitis-in-children. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Allergic rhinitis, sinusitis, and rhinosinusitis. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/content/allergic-rhinitis-sinusitis-and-rhinosinusitis. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Aring AM, Chan MM. Acute rhinosinusitis in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2011;83(9):1057-1063.
Chronic rhinosinusitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115673/Chronic-rhinosinusitis. Accessed January 29, 2021.
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Stewart AE, Vaughan WC. Balloon sinuplasty versus surgical management of chronic rhinosinusitis. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2010;10(3):181-187.
Last reviewed January 2021 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Shawna Grubb, RN
Last Updated: 1/29/2021
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