Sinusitis and nasal polyps

Sinusitis, commonly known as a sinus infection, occurs when the sinuses become inflamed due to bacterial infections, viruses, or molds. This inflammation leads to nasal congestion, making it difficult to breathe through the nose. Additionally, individuals may experience facial pressure, pain, and a runny nose as symptoms of sinusitis.

Distinguishing Between a Common Cold and Sinus Infection

A common cold is frequently confused with a sinus infection due to similar symptoms.

Acute viral sinus infections, the most prevalent form of sinusitis, typically endure for about a week. Acute bacterial sinus infections usually necessitate antibiotic treatment and may persist longer.

Chronic sinusitis persists for 12 weeks or more and mandates medical intervention.

While a common cold and a sinus infection share overlapping symptoms, such as nasal congestion and facial pressure, the crucial distinction lies in their duration and underlying cause, with colds typically lasting a shorter time and being caused by viral infections, whereas sinus infections can be triggered by viral, bacterial, or fungal infections.


Your primary care provider’s expertise

Your primary care provider is equipped to assess whether your symptoms indicate a sinus infection, and will devise an optimal treatment strategy tailored to your condition.

Sinus infections are not contagious whereas colds are. Sinus infections occur when bacteria or viruses inflame the tiny nasal tissues in your sinuses, which are the multiple air-filled pockets in the bones of your face. This inflammation disrupts the normal self-draining mechanism of the sinuses, causing excess mucus to accumulate and leading to congestion and other symptoms in one or more sinuses.

Individuals with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of developing bacterial or fungal sinus infections.

In cases of chronic sinusitis, individuals with allergies may experience an allergic fungal sinus infection triggered by allergens. Their nasal and sinus passages swell, become congested, and inflame as a response to allergens like seasonal pollens, molds, dust mites, and pet dander.

In addition, some individuals with asthma may develop a form of chronic sinusitis unrelated to infection.


Risk factors

Several factors can increase your risk of getting a sinus infection:

  • History of prior colds

  • Seasonal allergies

  • Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke

  • Structural abnormalities within the sinuses, like nasal polyps

  • Weakened immune system or use of immunosuppressive medications


Signs and symptoms of a sinus infection

Recognize these prevalent indicators of a sinus infection:

  • Halitosis (bad breath)

  • Nasal congestion

  • Cough

  • Discolored nasal discharge, often greenish

  • Facial discomfort and pressure, commonly around the eyes or nose bridge

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Frontal headaches

  • Headache

  • Tooth pain

  • Postnasal drip (mucus draining down the throat)

  • Runny or congested nose

  • Sore throat


When to see your primary care provider for a sinus infection

While many sinus infections resolve without medical intervention, seeking treatment can help manage symptoms. Contact your provider promptly if you experience common symptoms along with any of the following:

  • Fever persisting for 3 to 4 days

  • Recurring sinus infections within the past year

  • Severe symptoms such as intense headache or facial pain

  • Symptoms lasting over a week with no improvement

  • Symptoms worsening after an initial improvement

An untreated infection affecting the sinuses closest to the brain can pose serious risks, underscoring the importance of medical attention.

For infants under three months old with a sinus infection and a fever of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher, immediate medical assistance is necessary.

Treating a sinus infection

Individualized care

Your primary care provider will assess your condition through a physical examination and symptom evaluation to confirm a sinus infection. Based on this assessment, they will devise a treatment strategy tailored to your specific needs.

For viral sinus infections, your provider will suggest symptom management strategies until the infection resolves.

In cases of bacterial sinus infections, antibiotics may or may not be necessary. Often, antibiotics are deemed unnecessary, as their potential side effects may outweigh their benefits. Your provider may advise a watchful waiting approach to gauge your body's natural immune response.

Additionally, they might recommend delayed prescribing, where you receive an antibiotic prescription but delay filling it, a common practice, especially with pediatric patients.

Steps you can take at home

In the meantime, your plan may include steps to take at home to feel better, such as:

  • Utilizing a warm compress on the nose and forehead to alleviate sinus pressure.

  • Inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water or during a shower.

  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as pain relievers and antihistamines to alleviate symptoms.

  • Using decongestant or saline nasal sprays.

  • Employing a neti pot or other nasal saline rinses. Fill a neti pot with saline solution or warm water and irrigate your nasal passages.

When antibiotics are called for

Nevertheless, antibiotics may be prescribed by your provider as deemed necessary. Typically, antibiotics are administered for a duration ranging from 3 to 28 days, contingent upon the specific type prescribed. Additionally, your provider might recommend topical nasal corticosteroids to mitigate inflammation.

If you have chronic allergic sinusitis, your treatment strategy will encompass managing the underlying allergies alongside addressing your sinusitis symptoms.