Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinus cavities. The sinus cavities are air-filled spaces in the skull. It is usually associated with infection.
Sinusitis is called acute if it lasts for less than 4 weeks, subacute if it lasts 4-12 weeks, and chronic if symptoms last for more than 3 months. You may have recurrent sinusitis if you have repeated bouts of acute sinusitis.
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
Initial improvement with sudden worsening of symptoms over the course of a few weeks
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Sinusitis is diagnosed based on its symptoms and tenderness of the sinuses when pressed.
Tests may include:
Holding a flashlight up to the sinuses to see if they light up
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
Removing sinus fluid through a needle for testing (rare)
You have may acute sinusitis when the following occurs:
History of 10 or more days of colored mucous, or visibly infected mucus
Tenderness over the sinuses
Most sinus infections are caused by a virus and will pass on their own in 7-10 days. Home care and medications can help manage symptoms.
Infections that last longer or keep coming back may need more care.
Secretions can build up in the nasal and sinus passages. This can add to pressure and pain. Secretions can be loosened with:
Drinking throughout the day
Nasal and sinus washes
Steam treatments—may include humidifier running in your bedroom or inhaling steam from bowl of hot water
Medication may help manage symptoms until the sinusitis passes. Options may inlcude:
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—to manage related allergies
Intranasal corticosteroids—may decreasing swelling in the lining of the nose in people with allergies
Decongestants—to shrink nasal passages. Do not use nasal sprays for longer than 3-4 days in a row.
Antibiotics are only effective for specific sinus infections. If a sinus infection lasts longer than expected or keeps coming back the doctor may suspect a bacterial infection and recommend antibiotics.
Surgery may be recommended if above treatments have not provided relief for very troublesome, serious chronic sinusitis. Options may include one or more of the following:
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 your chance of sinusitis:
Have allergy testing to find out what things you are allergic to and to learn how to treat your allergies.
Avoid substances you know you are allergic to
Stick with your allergy treatment plan
If you get a cold, drink lots of fluids and use a decongestant.
Use sinus washes as directed.
Blow your nose gently, while pressing one nostril closed.
If you must travel by air, use a nasal spray decongestant to decrease inflammation prior to takeoff and landing.
Use a humidifier when you have a cold, allergic symptoms, or sinusitis.
Use HEPA filters for your furnace and vacuum cleaner to remove allergens from the air.
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 September 29, 2014.
Aring AM, Chan MM. Acute rhinosinusitis in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2011;83(9):1057-1063.
Last reviewed September 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Marcie L. Sidman, MD
Last Updated: 9/26/2017
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