Sinus Infections Are Often Viral
Sinus infections are a common illness that usually starts with an upper respiratory infection, and are viral rather than bacterial. Really any condition that causes inflammation of the lining of the sinuses can be called sinusitis. Allergies can cause inflammation, the common cold and similar viral conditions can too, and their symptoms can be similar. Usually those with a healthy immune system can treat sinusitis at home. It’s important to know what to look for, steps to take, and when to seek care.
Common symptoms of sinusitis include: nasal congestion and/or obstruction, dental pain, facial pain, headaches, feeling a lack of energy, thick and colored drainage, bad breath and possibly a fever. The facial pain is often felt in the cheeks, forehead, between the eyes, or behind the eyes. A cough, often when lying down, might be due to the thick drainage trying to drain to the back of the throat. Green nasal drainage is NOT a definitive sign of a bacterial infection, so don’t be fooled.
Since most sinus infections are viral, home treatments are recommended rather than the need for antibiotics, which are reserved for bacterial infections. Warm liquids, warm compresses to the face, saline nose spray, humidification and a pain reliever are very effective. If you do NOT have high blood pressure, you could try a decongestant nasal spray for up to three days. The use is limited because of what is known as the “rebound effect”, where overuse leads to a return of symptoms that may be worse than those initially experienced. Some use a NettiPot for saline nasal rinses, but there is some discomfort, and if not cleaned properly the pot can develop mold and cause issues.
So when should you seek care?
Symptoms that do not improve in 10 days
High fever (101+) or severe pain for more than 3-4 days
If you have diabetes or conditions that affect the immune system
Symptoms that may not be severe, but last more than 3 months
Your healthcare provider will guide what treatments are necessary. In some cases, an antibiotic may be needed. There used to be an antibiotic that patients loved because it was convenient, but research has found that it is NOT effective for sinusitis. Even if antibiotics are prescribed, use the home treatments as well to relieve the symptoms as you wait for the medicine to “kick in”.