Sinusitis occurs when the cavities around the nose become swollen and inflamed. This sinus infection is most often caused by a virus and may last long after the other upper respiratory symptoms have disappeared. The infection might be triggered by allergies, nasal polyps, a deviated nasal septum, or a tooth infection. It’s acute if it lasts for a short period of time. But if sinusitis doesn’t disappear after eight weeks, or always comes back, the patient has most likely developed a chronic infection.

Symptoms of sinusitis

Both chronic sinusitis and acute sinusitis have similar symptoms. Acute sinusitis is a temporary infection and often associated with a cold.

These symptoms may occur:

  • Pain, pressure, tenderness in the area where the sinus is located
  • Moving the head and leaning forward cause pain and pressure in the face
  • Headache
  • Tooth pain
  • Yellow or greenish discharge from the nose or down the back of the throat
  • Bad breath
  • Stuffy nose
  • Cough that produces mucus
  • Fever
  • Reduced sense of taste or smell

If at least two of the following signs appear, it might be chronic sinusitis:

  • Yellow or greenish discharge from the nose or down the back of the throat
  • Nasal obstruction or congestion that causes breathing difficulties through the nose
  • Pain, tenderness and swelling around cheeks, eyes, nose, forehead
  • Reduced sense of taste or smell

Causes and origin of sinusitis

Sinusitis is mostly caused by a viral infection that leads to an inflammation of the sinuses and mucous membrane lining the inside of the nose. Seldom, fungus or bacteria cause sinusitis.

Increased risk of getting sinusitis with:

  • Nasal passage abnormality, e.g. deviated nasal septum, nasal polyps
  • Sensitivity to aspirin that results in respiratory symptoms
  • Immune system disorder, e.g. HIV/AIDS
  • Hay fever or other allergies that affect the sinuses
  • Asthma
  • Regular exposure to cigarette smoke and other pollutants
Sinusitis can be very painful
Sinusitis can be very painful

Consequences of sinusitis

Chronic sinusitis may result in:

  • Asthma attack
  • Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord)
  • Vision problems or blindness (if sinusitis spreads to the eye socket)
  • Aneurysms or blood clots

Prevention and therapy of sinusitis

Self care

Treatment at home might relieve symptoms of pain associated with acute sinusitis, and prevent the need for antibiotics. In case the patient has chronic sinusitis, he/she has to continue home treatment probably for a long time to keep the sinuses clear.


  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Applying a hot, damp towel or gel pack to the face for five to ten minutes, a few times per day
  • Avoiding cold, dry air
  • Using a humidifier to increase the moisture
  • Using saltwater nasal washes in order to keep the nasal passages open and wash out mucus and bacteria
  • Blowing the nose gently if needed
  • Keeping both nostrils open when blowing the nose
  • Avoiding alcohol because it could result in swelling of the tissue that lines the nose and sinuses
  • Taking pain killers and following the instructions on the label
  • If the symptoms don’t disappear after a week and the pain doesn’t go away, a doctor’s visit is needed

Medical Treatment

If the condition doesn’t improve, the patient must take medicines to:

  • Treat the infection
  • Relieve pain caused by poor sinus drainage
  • Reduce inflammation of the sinuses and nose

The doctor might suggest a combination of different medications, such as:

  • Antibiotics to kill bacteria
  • Decongestants to reduce swelling of the mucous membranes in the nose
  • Analgesics to relieve pain
  • Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation in the nasal passages (mostly as nasal spray)
  • Mucolytics to thin mucus

Preventive measures

The risk of getting chronic sinusitis may be reduced by:

  • Avoiding upper respiratory infections:
    • Minimizing contact with people with a cold
    • Washing hands regularly with soap and water, particularly before eating
  • Keeping allergy symptoms under control
  • Avoiding tobacco smoke and polluted air
  • Adding moisture to the air, e.g. with humidifier