Sinuses, also called "paranasal sinuses," are hollow spaces within the bones of your head, surrounding your nose. There are 4 pairs of sinuses: over your eyes, between your eyes, behind your eyes and near your cheekbones.
They produce mucus that drains into your nasal passages. Mucus helps your nasal passages filter out dust, germs and other particles before they get to your lungs - potentially causing irritation and making you sick.
What is a Sinus Infection?
When your nasal passages swell due to viral or bacterial infections, allergies, pollutants or certain diseases, it constricts the openings to your sinuses. Air and mucus become trapped in your sinuses. And that can cause pain and thickened mucus. That's "nasal congestion."
Nasal congestion caused by a cold will last only 1 or 2 weeks and go away on its own. But nasal congestion that lasts longer and is accompanied by other symptoms may be a sinus infection, or sinusitis.
Sometimes the same viruses that cause the common cold, once spread to the sinuses, can also cause sinus infection.
An acute sinus infection lasts less than 4 weeks. A chronic sinus infection lasts longer than 12 weeks and often has different implications.
Symptoms of a sinus infection, or sinusitis, can include:
- Nasal congestion
- Thick nasal drainage (white, yellowish, greenish or blood-tinged)
- Post-nasal drip (mucus draining in the back of the throat)
- Pain in the teeth or near the nose that is worse when bending forward
- Sore throat
- Worsening symptoms after a period of improvement
Treating a Sinus Infection
You can begin treating a sinus infection at home by:
- Using a saline nasal spray or Neti pot to keep nasal passages moist and wash away mucus buildup
- Taking decongestants to relieve clogged nasal passages (Oral decongestants may cause side effects, such as trouble urinating, jitters and sleeplessness. Nasal decongestant sprays have fewer side effects but should not be used for more than 2 or 3 days.)
- Using a topical glucocorticoid nasal spray to help reduce swelling and obstruction
- Taking mucus thinners, such as guaifenesin
- Taking pain and fever reducers, such as Tylenol
But, if symptoms linger for more than 10 days, your nasal passages become painful and inflamed, or you develop a fever, it's time to see a doctor. Your doctor may recommend:
- Continuing the topical glucocorticoid nasal spray
- Taking antibiotics
Cold and sinus infection symptoms may linger for several weeks. If your symptoms last longer than 12 weeks, you may have an obstruction in your nasal passages, an allergic disorder or a genetic condition. You may need to see a specialist.
Preventing a Sinus Infection
While there are no proven methods of preventing sinus infection, these actions may help:
- Wash your hands regularly
- Use saline spray to keep your nasal passages moist
- Use a humidifier to keep indoor air moist
- Avoid irritants, such as tobacco smoke and strong-smelling chemicals
- Avoid allergens that irritate your nose
If you get frequent sinus infections, your doctor may recommend an allergy evaluation.
- "Sinusitis," [http://www.niaid.nih.gov/TOPICS/SINUSITIS/Pages/prevention.aspx] National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
- "Sinusitis," [http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/sinusitis.html] MedlinePlus.