Skip to content

    Sinusitis Slideshow: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

    Sinus Attack!

    Pain in the forehead or between the eyes? Upper teeth ache? Face feeling full, nose stuffy and congested? You may have a common complaint that sends many people to a doctor's office: sinus trouble.

    What Are Sinuses?

    What Are Sinuses?

    They’re air spaces in your skull lined with mucous membranes. Most people have four sets of nasal sinuses:

    • Two in the forehead above the eyes
    • One inside each cheekbone (dark triangles seen in this image)
    • A group of them, called the ethmoid sinuses, behind the bridge of the nose
    • Another group behind the nose and underneath the brain called the sphenoid sinuses

    Sinuses are like fingerprints: Everybody's are different.  Some people have no frontal sinuses or just one.

    What Is Sinusitis?

    It’s inflammation in your sinuses. Tiny, hair-like structures called cilia (magnified here) move mucus across sinus membranes and toward an exit. All of your sinus cavities connect to your nose to allow a free exchange of air and mucus. Infections or allergies make sinus tissues inflamed, red, and swollen.

    Just a Cold … at First

    Sinusitis usually starts with inflammation triggered by a cold, allergy attack, or irritant. But it may not end there. Colds, allergies, and irritants make sinus tissues swell.

    How It Feels

    Most people have a stuffy nose and pain or pressure in several areas around the face or teeth. There's usually a nasal discharge that may be yellow, green, or clear. You may also have fatigue, trouble with sense of smell or taste, cough, sore throat, bad breath, headache, pain when you bend forward, and fever.

    When It Won't Go Away

    Inflammation of the sinuses that lasts for more than 3 months is chronic sinusitis. Bacteria can make their home in blocked sinuses, but they aren’t the only cause. Anatomy, allergies, polyps, immune system problems, and dental diseases may also be to blame.

    Nasal Polyps

    If your sinuses remain inflamed, sinus membranes can thicken and swell. The swelling may be enough to cause grape-like masses called polyps (shown here). They can jut out from the sinus into the nasal passage and block your nasal airway.

    Nasal Decongestants

    These sprays open swollen nasal passages and allow your sinuses to drain. But you should use these drugs only for a few days. After that, there's a kickback effect, making your nasal passages swell shut again. Nasal steroid sprays, or saline sprays or washes, may be other options. If symptoms don’t stop, see your doctor.

    Do You Need Antibiotics?

    The common cold is a viral infection. Colds can lead to sinusitis symptoms, but these usually clear by themselves. Antibiotics don’t treat viruses, so they won't help the sinus symptoms of a cold. Your cold should be over in a week or two. Usually, cold-related sinusitis goes away then, too.

    Treating Allergy-Related Sinusitis

    Have you tried irrigation with saline solution, either with a neti pot or squeeze bottle? Nasal steroid sprays might help, too, if your sinus symptoms are due to allergies. Antihistamines could also come in handy, especially if you’re sneezing and have a runny nose.

    When to See the Doctor

    Yellow or green mucus can mean a bacterial infection. Even then, it usually clears up in 7 to 14 days without antibiotics. But if you keep feeling worse, your symptoms last and are severe, or if you get a fever, it's time to see a doctor.

    Will You Need Sinus Surgery?

    An operation called FESS (functional endoscopic sinus surgery) can bring some relief, if nothing else works. But start with the simplest solution: Avoid things that irritate your sinuses, and then work with your doctor to see if medicines help. Surgery is the last resort.

    Rare Complications

    Only a layer of bone separates your sinuses from your brain. It’s not likely, but if a sinus infection passes through the bone, it can infect the lining of the brain or the brain itself. It’s also uncommon, but a sinus infection could spread into the eye socket, causing an infection that could cause blindness. Less severe complications include asthma attacks and loss of smell or taste, which are usually temporary.

    Can You Prevent Sinusitis?

    Unfortunately, no. But you can do these three things that help:

    • Keep your sinuses moist. Use saline sprays, nasal lubricant sprays, or nasal irrigation often.
    • Avoid very dry indoor environments.
    • Avoid exposure to irritants, such as cigarette smoke or strong chemical odors.


    Font Size

    What Is Sinusitis?

    Sinusitis is an inflammation or swelling of the tissue lining the sinuses. Healthy sinuses are filled with air. But when they become blocked and filled with fluid, germs can grow and cause an infection.

    Recommended Related to Allergies

    Winter Allergies: What's Your Risk?

    The temperature drops, the wind picks up, and like clockwork you're sniffling and sneezing again. Great, you've got another cold -- or is it winter allergies, instead?

    Read the Winter Allergies: What's Your Risk? article > >

    Conditions that can cause sinus blockage include:

    Types of Sinusitis

    • Acute sinusitis usually starts with coldlike symptoms such as a runny, stuffy nose and facial pain. It may start suddenly and last 2-4 weeks.
    • Subacute sinus inflammation usually lasts 4 to 12 weeks.
    • Chronic inflammation symptoms last 12 weeks or longer.
    • Recurrent sinusitis happens several times a year.

    Who Gets It?

    Lots of people. About 35 million Americans have it at least once each year. It’s more likely if you have:

    • Swelling inside the nose like from a common cold
    • Blocked drainage ducts
    • Structural differences that narrow those ducts
    • Nasal polyps
    • Immune system deficiencies or medications that suppress the immune system

    For children, things that can cause sinusitis include:

    • Allergies
    • Illnesses from other kids at day care or school
    • Pacifiers
    • Bottle drinking while lying on the back
    • Smoke in the environment

    The main risk factors for adults are infections and smoking.

    Symptoms of Acute Sinusitis

    The main signs include:

    • Facial pain or pressure
    • "Stuffed-up" nose
    • Runny nose
    • Loss of smell
    • Cough or congestion

    You may also have:

    It may be acute sinusitis if you have two or more symptoms, or thick, green, or yellow nasal discharge.

    Symptoms of Chronic Sinusitis

    You may have these symptoms for 12 weeks or more:

    • A feeling of congestion or fullness in your face
    • A nasal obstruction or nasal blockage
    • Pus in the nasal cavity
    • Fever
    • Runny nose or discolored postnasal drainage

    You may also have headaches, bad breath, and tooth pain. You may feel tired a lot.


    Your doctor will look at your symptoms and give you a physical. He may feel and press your face to look for tenderness in the sinuses, and tap your teeth to see if a sinus near your nose is bothering you.

    You may also need other tests.

    1 | 2 | 3

    Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on May 05, 2016

    Sources: Sources

    This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information: Disclaimer

    © 2016 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

    Today on WebMD

    man blowing nose
    Make these tweaks to your diet, home, and lifestyle.
    Allergy capsule
    Breathe easier with these products.
    cat on couch
    Live in harmony with your cat or dog.
    Woman sneezing with tissue in meadow
    Which ones affect you?

    blowing nose
    woman with sore throat
    lone star tick
    Woman blowing nose

    cat lying on shelf
    Allergy prick test
    Man sneezing into tissue
    Woman holding feather duster up to face, twitching