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DNB
Pulmonologist,  •  21 years experience
Sinusitis

What is sinusitis? — Sinusitis is a condition that can cause a stuffy nose, pain in the face, and yellow or green discharge (mucus) from the nose. The sinuses are hollow areas in the bones of the face. They have a thin lining that normally makes a small amount of mucus. When this lining gets infected, it swells and makes extra mucus. This causes symptoms.

Sinusitis can occur when a person gets sick with a cold. The germs causing the cold can also infect the sinuses. Many times, a person feels like his or her cold is getting better. But then he or she gets sinusitis and begins to feel sick again.

What are the symptoms of sinusitis? — Common symptoms of sinusitis include:

Stuffy or blocked noseThick yellow or green discharge from the nosePain in the teethPain or pressure in the face – This often feels worse when a person bends forward.

People with sinusitis can also have other symptoms that include:

FeverCoughTrouble smellingEar pressure or fullnessHeadacheBad breathFeeling tired

Most of the time, symptoms start to improve in 7 to 10 days.

Should I see a doctor or nurse? — See your doctor or nurse if your symptoms last more than 7 days, or if your symptoms get better at first but then get worse.

Sometimes, sinusitis can lead to serious problems. See your doctor or nurse right away (do not wait 7 days) if you have:

Fever higher than 102.5°F (39.2°C)Sudden and severe pain in the face and headTrouble seeing or seeing doubleTrouble thinking clearlySwelling or redness around 1 or both eyesTrouble breathing or a stiff neck

Is there anything I can do on my own to feel better? — Yes. To reduce your symptoms, you can:

Take an over-the-counter pain reliever to reduce the painRinse your nose and sinuses with salt water a few times a day – Ask your doctor or nurse about the best way to do this.Use a decongestant nose spray – These sprays are sold in a pharmacy. But do not use decongestant nose sprays for more than 2 to 3 days in a row. Using them more than 3 days in a row can make symptoms worse.

You should NOT take an antihistamine for sinusitis. Common antihistamines include diphenhydramine(sample brand name: Benadryl), chlorpheniramine(sample brand name: Chlor-Trimeton), loratadine(sample brand name: Claritin), and cetirizine (sample brand name: Zyrtec). They can treat allergies, but not sinus infections, and could increase your discomfort by drying the lining of your nose and sinuses, or making you tired.

Your doctor might also prescribe a steroid nose spray to reduce the swelling in your nose. (Steroid nose sprays do not contain the same steroids that athletes take to build muscle.)

How is sinusitis treated? — Most of the time, sinusitis does not need to be treated with antibiotic medicines. This is because most sinusitis is caused by viruses — not bacteria — and antibiotics do not kill viruses. Many people get over sinus infections without antibiotics.

Some people with sinusitis do need treatment with antibiotics. If your symptoms have not improved after 7 to 10 days, ask your doctor if you should take antibiotics. Your doctor might recommend that you wait 1 more week to see if your symptoms improve. But if you have symptoms such as a fever or a lot of pain, he or she might prescribe antibiotics. It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions about taking your antibiotics.

What if my symptoms do not get better? — If your symptoms do not get better, talk with your doctor or nurse. He or she might order tests to figure out why you still have symptoms. These can include:

CT scan or other imaging tests – Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body.A test to look inside the sinuses – For this test, a doctor puts a thin tube with a camera on the end into the nose and up into the sinuses.

Some people get a lot of sinus infections or have symptoms that last at least 3 months. These people can have a different type of sinusitis called “chronic sinusitis.” Chronic sinusitis can be caused by different things. For example, some people have growths in their nose or sinuses that are called “polyps.” Other people have allergies that cause their symptoms.

Chronic sinusitis can be treated in different ways. If you have chronic sinusitis, talk with your doctor about which treatments are right for you.

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