What is acute sinusitis?
A stuffed up nose and pressure on our cheekbones can often mean you have acute sinusitis. Acute sinusitis, also called acute rhinosinusitis, is a short-term infection or inflammation of the membranes that line your sinuses. It prevents mucus from draining from your nose.
How common is acute sinusitis?
Acute sinusitis is common. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of acute sinusitis?
The common symptoms of acute sinusitis are:
- Drainage of a thick, yellow or greenish discharge from the nose or down the back of the throat (postnasal drainage)
- Nasal obstruction or congestion, causing difficulty breathing through your nose
- Pain, tenderness, swelling and pressure around your eyes, cheeks, nose or forehead that worsens when bending over
- Ear pressure
- Aching in your upper jaw and teeth
- Reduced sense of smell and taste
- Cough, which might be worse at night
- Bad breath (halitosis)
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Symptoms that either don’t improve within a few days or worsen
- A persistent fever
- A history of recurrent or chronic sinusitis
What causes acute sinusitis?
Acute sinusitis is most often caused by the common cold, which is a viral infection. In some cases, a bacterial infection develops.
What increases my risk for acute sinusitis?
There are many risk factors for acute sinusitis, such as:
- Hay fever or another allergic condition that affects your sinuses
- A nasal passage abnormality, such as a deviated nasal septum, nasal polyps or tumors
- A medical condition such as cystic fibrosis or an immune system disorder such as HIV/AIDS
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is acute sinusitis diagnosed?
Your doctor will feel for tenderness in your nose and face and look inside your nose.
Other methods that might be used to diagnose acute sinusitis and rule out other conditions include:
- Nasal endoscopy. A thin, flexible tube (endoscope) with a fiber-optic light inserted through your nose allows your doctor to visually inspect the inside of your sinuses.
- Imaging studies. A CT scan or MRI can show details of your sinuses and nasal area. While not recommended for uncomplicated acute sinusitis, imaging studies might help identify abnormalities or suspected complications.
- Nasal and sinus cultures. Laboratory tests are generally unnecessary for diagnosing acute sinusitis. However, when the condition fails to respond to treatment or is worsening, tissue cultures might help determine the cause, such as a bacterial infection.
- Allergy testing. If your doctor suspects that allergies have triggered your acute sinusitis, he or she will recommend an allergy skin test. A skin test is safe and quick, and can help pinpoint the allergen that’s responsible for your nasal flare-ups.
How is acute sinusitis treated?
Most cases of acute sinusitis, those caused by a viral infection, resolve on their own. Self-care techniques are usually all you need to ease symptoms.
Treatments to relieve symptoms
Your doctor may recommend treatments to help relieve sinusitis symptoms, including:
- Saline nasal spray, which you spray into your nose several times a day to rinse your nasal passages.
- Nasal corticosteroids. These nasal sprays help prevent and treat inflammation. Examples include fluticasone (Flonase, Veramyst), budesonide (Rhinocort), mometasone (Nasonex) and beclomethasone (Beconase AQ, Qnasl, others).
- These medications are available in over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription liquids, tablets and nasal sprays. Use nasal decongestants for only a few days. Otherwise they may cause the return of more severe congestion (rebound congestion).
- OTC pain relievers, such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others).
Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children.
Antibiotics usually aren’t needed to treat acute sinusitis. Even if your acute sinusitis is bacterial, it may clear up without treatment.
Your doctor might wait and watch to see if your bacterial acute sinusitis worsens. However, severe, progressive or persistent symptoms might require antibiotics. If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, be sure to take the whole course, even after your symptoms get better. If you stop taking them early, your symptoms may recur.
If allergies are contributing to your sinusitis, allergy shots (immunotherapy) that help reduce the body’s reaction to specific allergens may help treat your symptoms.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage acute sinusitis?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with acute sinusitis:
- This will help your body fight infection and speed recovery.
- Drink fluids, such as water or juice. This will help dilute mucous secretions and promote drainage. Avoid beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol, as they can be dehydrating. Drinking alcohol can also worsen the swelling of the lining of the sinuses and nose.
- Moisten your sinus cavities. Drape a towel over your head as you breathe in the vapor from a bowl of hot water. Keep the vapor directed toward your face. Or take a hot shower, breathing in the warm, moist air. This will help ease pain and help mucus drain.
- Apply warm compresses to your face. Place warm, damp towels around your nose, cheeks and eyes to ease facial pain.
- Rinse your nasal passages. Use a specially designed squeeze bottle (Sinus Rinse, others) or neti pot. This home remedy, called nasal lavage, can help clear your sinuses.
If you make your own rinse, use water that’s contaminant-free — distilled, sterile, previously boiled and cooled, or filtered using a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller — to make up the irrigation solution. Also be sure to rinse the irrigation device after each use with contaminant-free water and leave open to air-dry.
- Sleep with your head elevated. This will help your sinuses drain, reducing congestion.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: October 16, 2017 | Last Modified: December 6, 2019
Acute sinusitis. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acute-sinusitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351671. Accessed October 19, 2017.
Acute Sinusitis. https://www.healthline.com/health/acute-sinusitis#Overview1. Accessed October 19, 2017.