Sinuses are air-filled spaces in the bone behind the cheeks and forehead. Sinusitis is an inflammation or infection of the sinuses. It is usually viral, typically caused by the same viruses that cause colds. Other causes include smoking, allergies, polyps (growths of tissue that can block the sinus passage), and overuse of nasal decongestants. The inflammatory fluid that builds up in the sinus spaces may become secondarily infected with bacteria. Symptoms of sinus infection include facial pain and pressure, headache, fever, stuffy nose, coughing, upper-tooth pain, and thick green or yellow nasal mucus. Sinusitis caused by bacteria may need treatment with an antibiotic. Recovery from sinusitis is usually slow; most cases of sinusitis take a week or more to resolve.

Prevention

  • Do what you can to prevent catching colds (see “Colds”)
  • Avoid smoking. Tobacco smoke can paralyze tiny hairs called cilia that help clear the sinuses of bacteria and other particles
  • Especially when fighting a cold, avoid vigorous nose blowing which may drive bacteria into the sinuses. Try using nasal saline to loosen secretions and clear only one nostril at a time.
  • Avoid any substances that irritate your allergies

Treatment

Home care   Home Care

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Stay well-hydrated
  • Drink hot liquids or breathe in steam from a hot bath or shower to keep sinuses humidified
  • Rinse your sinus passages using a device such as a neti pot or sinu-rinse, carefully following package instructions. Sinus lavage can be very effective in providing temporary relief while a viral infection runs its course.
  • Take Tylenol or Advil for pain
  • Use nasal decongestant spray if it helps, but not for more than two to three days (to avoid rebound symptoms)
  • Try nonprescription cold medicines
  • If you seek medical care, follow your care provider’s instructions and take recommended medications as instructed. Know for how long you should expect to be sick and for what symptoms should to call back or follow up.

Professional care   Professional Care

Seek medical attention if:

  • You have a headache more severe than a “normal” headache
  • Sinus/facial pain worsens or is severe
  • You develop a high fever
  • You have a history of nasal polyps or severe sinus infections