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Sinusitis - Topic Overview

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Sinus infections often follow a cold and cause pain and pressure in your head and face.

Sinusitis can be either acute (sudden) or chronic (long-term). With chronic sinusitis, the infection or inflammation does not completely go away for 12 weeks or more.

Sinusitis can be caused by three things:

  • Viruses.
  • Bacteria.
  • Fungi.

The same viruses that cause the common cold cause most cases of sinusitis.

When the lining of the sinus cavities camera.gif gets inflamed from a viral infection like a cold, it swells. This is viral sinusitis. The swelling can block the normal drainage of fluid from the sinuses into the nose and throat. If the fluid cannot drain and builds up over time, bacteria or fungi (plural of fungus) may start to grow in it. These bacterial or fungal infections can cause more swelling and pain. They are more likely to last longer, get worse with time, and become chronic.

Nasal allergies or other problems that block the nasal passages and allow fluid to build up in the sinuses can also lead to sinusitis.

The main symptoms of sinusitis are a runny or stuffy nose and pain and pressure in your head and face. You may also have a yellow or green drainage or drip from your nose or down the back of your throat (postnasal discharge). Where you feel the pain and tenderness depends on which sinus is affected.

Other common symptoms of sinusitis may include:

  • A headache.
  • Bad breath.
  • A cough that produces mucus.
  • A fever.
  • Pain in your teeth.
  • A reduced sense of taste or smell.

Your doctor can tell if you have sinusitis by asking questions about your past health and doing a physical exam. You probably won't need any other tests.

Viral sinus infections usually go away on their own within 10 to 14 days. Antibiotics don't work for viral infections. But there are some things you can do at home to help relieve your symptoms:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Try over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestant pills to help relieve the pain and pressure in your head and face. (Decongestants can cause problems for people who have certain health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.)
  • Put a hot, damp towel or gel pack on your face for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, several times a day.
  • Breathe warm, moist air from a steamy shower, a hot bath, or a sink filled with hot water.
  • Use saline nose drops and sprays to keep the nasal passages moist and use saline nasal washes to help keep the nasal passages open and wash out mucus and bacteria.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 12, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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