Sinusitis is present when the tissue lining the sinuses becomes swollen or inflamed. It occurs as a result of an infection from a virus, bacteria or fungus.

The sinuses are air-filled spaces behind the forehead, cheeks and eyes. Normally, air passes in and out of the sinuses, and mucus and fluid drain from the sinuses into the nose.

When inflamed, the sinuses become blocked with mucus and can become infected.

Sinusitis can be acute (lasting anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks) or chronic (continues for a long time or keeps coming back). Chronic sinusitis is much less common than acute sinusitis.

Causes of sinusitis include:

  • Blockage in the nose from nasal polyps, nasal tumors or a deviated septum
  • Colds and allergies cause too much mucus to be made or block the opening of the sinuses
  • Dental infections such as tooth abscess
  • Small hairs in the sinuses fail to properly move mucus out

Sinusitis Symptoms

The symptoms of sinusitis in adults very often follow respiratory infections, colds or allergic reactions. Symptoms include:

  • Bad breath or loss of smell
  • Cough, often worse at night
  • Fatigue or general feeling of being ill
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Pressure-like pain, pain behind the eyes, or tenderness of the face
  • Nasal stuffiness or discharge
  • Sore throat and postnasal drip

Sinusitis Diagnosis

Your health care provider will examine you for sinusitis by:

  • Looking in the nose for signs of polyps
  • Shining a light against the sinus for signs of inflammation
  • Tapping over a sinus area to find infection

In some cases, your primary care doctor may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT) to perform a nasal endoscopy.

Sinusitis Treatment

In many cases, sinusitis can be cured with self-care measures and over-the-counter medicines.

Your primary care provider may consider other prescription medicines or further testing. If needed, you may be referred to an ear, nose and throat doctor or an allergy specialist for further testing and treatment.