Sinusitis: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment


Sinusitis, or sinus infection, is a common condition in which the lining of the sinuses becomes inflamed. The sinuses are hollow, air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead. When the sinuses are blocked and filled with fluid, germs can grow and cause an infection. Sinusitis can be classified into acute sinusitis, subacute sinusitis, chronic sinusitis, infected sinusitis, and noninfectious sinusitis. Most people do not spread sinus infections to others and the condition often improves within two or three weeks. About 12.1 percent of adults surveyed in the United States are diagnosed with sinusitis annually.


For acute sinusitis, it is most often caused by the common cold, which is a viral infection. In some cases, a bacterial infection develops. Besides, an infected tooth or fungal infection can also cause the sinuses to become inflamed.

For chronic sinusitis, common causes include:

  • Nasal polyps. They are the growths inside the nose, which can block the nasal passages or sinuses.
  • Deviated nasal septum. A crooked septum, which is the wall between the nostrils, may restrict or block sinus passages.
  • Certain medical conditions. The complications of gastroesophageal reflux, HIV and other immune system-related diseases can lead to nasal blockage.
  • Respiratory tract infections. These infections can be viral, bacterial or fungal, which can inflame and thicken your sinus membranes and block mucus drainage.
  • Allergies. Some allergies such as allergic rhinitis, asthma and hay fever will cause inflammation, which can block your sinuses.


Symptoms of sinusitis may vary depending on the type and severity of the infection.

Common symptoms may include:

  • facial pain and pressure
  • pressure or pain in the sinuses, ears and teeth
  • blocked nose
  • nasal discharge
  • nasal congestion
  • reduced sense of smell
  • sore throat
  • cough

In more serious cases, the following symptoms may be present:

  • fever
  • pus-like nasal discharge
  • toothache
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • halitosis, or foul-smelling breath


To diagnose sinusitis, the doctor will first perform a physical examination by feeling for tenderness in your nose and face and looking inside your nose. Additional tests and procedures may include:

  • Endoscopy. The doctor will insert a thin flexible tube with a fiber-optic light, called endoscope, through your nose to see the inside of the sinuses.
  • Imaging studies. A CT scan, MRI or panoramic dental X-rays can show detailed pictures of the sinuses and nasal area. These tests can detect a deep inflammation or physical obstruction.
  • Nasal and sinus cultures. If the condition is worsening and the treatment does not work, nasal and sinus cultures can help determine the underlying cause, such as bacteria or fungi.
  • Allergy tests. If your condition is triggered by allergies, the doctor might recommend an allergy skin test. It is safe and quick and can help pinpoint the allergen.


There are several treatment options for sinusitis depending on different types.

For acute sinusitis, most of them are caused by a viral infection and will resolve on their own. You also need to take some self-care measures to ease symptoms.

For chronic sinusitis, the doctor may prescribe medications or conduct an immunotherapy, and more severely, a surgery may be needed.

Common treatment options include:

  • Saline nasal washes with nasal sprays
  • Antibiotics, especially when you have a bacterial infection
  • Immunotherapy to reduce the body’s reaction to specific allergens
  • Surgery, in which the doctor may use various instruments to remove tissue or shave away a polyp which causes nasal blockage

Keywords: Sinusitis

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.