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Symptoms of a Sinus Infection, Types, Causes, Treatment

Updated on October 16, 2013

Sinus infection refers to swelling or inflammation of the tissue that line the sinuses. The sinuses are normally full of air. However, when they get filled and choked with fluids and pathogens like viruses, bacteria, and fungi, then it can result in a sinus infection.

Some of the disorders which can cause obstruction and clogging of the sinus include allergic rhinitis or inflammation of the nasal linings; common cold; a deviated septum, i.e., an abnormal shift in the cavity of the nose; and/or nasal polyps which are tiny growths in the nasal linings.

Delay in treatment of sinus infections can lead to increased discomfort and pain. In very rare situations, untreated cases of sinus infections can result in brain abscess or meningitis, and/or infection of the skeleton or bones.

Types of sinus infection

There are four different types of sinus infection as listed below:

  • Acute sinus infection: It is characterized by sudden appearance of cold-like signs and symptoms, including stuffed and runny nose, and pain in the face. These symptoms last for ten to fourteen days. Acute sinus infections can stay for up to four weeks.

  • Sub-acute sinus infection: The sinus inflammation tends to stay on for four to eight weeks

  • Chronic sinus infection:The sinus inflammation tends to stay on for eight weeks or more

  • Recurrent sinus infection: It features many infections in a single year

Symptoms of sinus infection

Listed below are the signs and symptoms of acute and chronic sinus infections.

Acute sinus infection: It is diagnosed when 2 or more symptoms are present, and/or the detection of greenish or yellowish, thick nasal flow. Its common symptoms are as follows:

  • Stuffiness of the nose

  • Pressure or pain in the face

  • Loss of the sense of smell

  • Discharge from the nose

  • Congestion and/or coughing

The uncommon symptoms are as follows:

  • Smelly breath

  • Fever

  • Pain in the teeth, gums, or other dental components

  • Fatigue

Chronic sinus infection: The below listed symptoms may be experienced by the patient for eight weeks or longer:

  • Some kind of blockage or obstruction in the nose

  • Facial fullness or congestion

  • Occurrence of pus in the cavity of the nose

  • Discharge from the nose, or discolored postnasal flow

  • Fever

Other uncommon symptoms are as follows:

  • The breath may have bad odor

  • Headaches

  • Dental pain

  • Exhaustion or fatigue

Causes of sinus infection

Sinus infection may arise due to anything that hinders the flow of air into the sinuses and the removal of mucus from the sinuses. The ostea or sinus openings may get clogged due to swelling or inflammation of the tissue lining as well as the nearby tissue of the nasal passage. This can occur because of varied conditions such as allergies, common colds, and irritants like cocaine, non-prescription nasal sprays, and cigarette smoke. The sinus may also get congested by growths or tumors occurring near the opening of the sinus.

Approximately thirty-seven million Americans experience at least one bout of sinus infection each year. Some of the risk factors which can increase the vulnerability to developing sinus infection are listed below:

  • Any kind of obstruction of the drainage ducts

  • Swelling of the mucous membrane of the nose

  • Presence of the common cold

  • Occurrence of nasal polyps

  • Presence of structural defects that constrict the drainage ducts

  • Different conditions that increase the susceptibility to infections, such as intake of immunosuppressant drugs, or a weakened immune system

Adults generally tend to get sinus infections due to habits like smoking

Children typically experience sinus infections due to varied external factors such as contracting different diseases from others at school or day care centers, allergies, pacifiers, environmental smoke, and drinking from a bottle while in a sleeping position or lying on the back.

Is a sinus infection contagious?

A majority of patients do not transfer sinus infections. Doctors are in agreement that barring rare cases, a sinus infection is not contagious. It is typically caused due to invasion of the sinus by bacteria, viruses, and other germs which tend to thrive in the sinuses due to presence of certain anomalies like inflammation, swelling, anomalous amounts of mucus production, etc.

Treatment of sinus infection

  • Minor cases of acute sinus infection usually disappear with steam inhalation and use of over the counter decongestant nasal sprays or drops. It is however important to note that such medications should not be used beyond the recommended 4 to 5 days, else it can increase the congestion. Treatment with antibiotics lasts for about 10 to 14 days, after which affected individuals will completely recover from the symptoms.

  • Most cases of sinusitis are caused by viruses, due to which an antibacterial treatment is not recommended. Check with your doctor in finding the right method of treatment. Fever, tenderness of the face, change in the mucus color and headaches are symptoms of sinus infection caused due to bacteria, for which antibacterial medications or antibiotics are prescribed.

  • The symptoms of chronic sinus infection can also be relieved via steam inhalation, saline nasal drops, OTC decongestants, and use of vaporizers. Sinus and nasal pain can be eased with warm compresses. Doctors may also prescribe oral steroids or antibiotics for severe sinus infection.

  • The presence of nasal polyps or structural defects, or the failure of drug therapy may require surgical intervention to open the blocked sinuses.

  • Intake of lots of fluids and quitting smoking are also recommended.


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