Do you have a "cold" that seems to be lingering around? It might actually be a sinus infection, also referred to as sinusitis or rhinosinusitis.
You aren't alone. Around 30 million adults in the United States suffer from sinus infections each year.
The common cold and sinus infections share some similar symptoms, so it can be easy to confuse the two. We put together this guide to help you know the signs of sinusitis, treatment options, and when to see your doctor.
What is a sinus infection?
A sinus infection occurs when the nasal cavities become swollen and inflamed from fluid buildup. This buildup can cause germs to grow, leading to an infection.
There are four types of sinus infections:
Acute sinusitis- an infection lasting less than 4 weeks.
Subacute sinusitis- an infection lasting between 4 and 12 weeks
Recurrent acute sinusitis- an acute sinus infection that recurs 4 or more times within a year and lasts 7 days or more each time.
Chronic sinusitis- sinus infections that last for more than 12 weeks at a time or continue to recur.
Signs and symptoms of a sinus infection
Headache and facial pain
Pain in the sinuses and head is two of sinusitis's top symptoms. You may also feel pressure in your forehead, neck, between the eyes, and even in your teeth and upper jaw.
Sinus infections cause an increase in mucus production. So all the extra phlegm needs somewhere to go.
That feeling of needing to clear your throat, or a tickle that makes you cough, is from postnasal drip when the mucus runs down the back of your nose to your throat. It can also lead to a sore throat and coughing.
When the extra mucus comes out your nostrils instead of down the throat, that leads to a runny nose.
Since a sinus infection causes the sinuses to become swollen and inflamed, there's a chance the mucus becomes trapped and unable to drain normally. As a result, you may feel congested.
Infected sinuses may produce foul-smelling mucus. When this mucus drips down your throat, it can cause bad breath.
Symptoms that last over 2 weeks
The common cold can last anywhere from 7-10 days. So if your symptoms are persistent for over two weeks, it might be a sinus infection.
Treatment for sinus infection
There are ways to treat your sinus infection at home. Always consult your doctor before starting any medications and supplements, including over-the-counter (OTC), as they may have adverse effects with other medicines.
Many sinus infections don't need an antibiotic, especially if a virus is the source. If your doctor does determine you need a medication, they will most likely prescribe Augmentin (Amoxicillin).
Decongestants, cold, and allergy medications are available over-the-counter and can sometimes help with sinus infections.
Popular antihistamines and decongestants medications for those with allergies and a sinus infection include:
Nasal sprays, such as Afrin, can help relieve sinus infection symptoms in the short term. However, you should limit how long you use these, as extended use can make symptoms worse.
Steroid nasal spray, like Flonase, is also available OTC and is a better option for prolonged use.
Nasal rinse/Nasal irrigation
Nasal irrigation is a way to rinse your sinus with a salt water/saline solution. It helps alleviate pressure by clearing out mucus, allergens, and debris while moistening your mucus membranes.
Laying a warm towel or washcloth over the inflamed area may help reduce and relieve the pressure and pain.
When to see a doctor for your sinus infection
See your healthcare provider if your symptoms have been going on for more than 10-14 days without improvement. You should also see your doctor right away if:
Head, face, and sinus pressure/pain become severe.
Your symptoms worsen after improving
You have a fever lasting more than 3 days
While cases are rare, you should get emergency medical care if you experience:
Fever of 103 and over
Confusion/change in mental status
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