Does facial pain and tenderness from a sinus infection have you running for medication to find relief? Controlling the infection (or its symptoms) is key to avoiding discomfort that can otherwise linger for weeks.
“Sinus infections are very common, and unfortunately, they can last 10 days or more and cause symptoms that are more severe than a common cold,” says Geisinger Family Medicine provider Kyle May, MD. “The good news is that most sinus infections can be treated at home by controlling symptoms and relieving nasal pressure.”
A sinus infection, also called sinusitis, is inflammation of the sinuses. Often, it’s caused by complications from the common cold, flu, or even allergies.
When the sinuses are healthy, mucus drains easily from the nose to remove unwanted dirt and bacteria. But pathogens such as viruses, allergens, bacteria, or fungi can cause inflammation of the sinus membranes and prevent mucus from draining. This creates a breeding ground for pathogens.
sinus infection symptoms
A telltale sign of a sinus infection is sinus pressure, leading to facial pain and tenderness behind the eyes and cheeks. Additionally, sinus infections can produce thick yellow or green mucus.
Other common sinus infection symptoms include:
- Fever and body aches
- Runny nose and postnasal drip (mucus in throat)
- toothache or ear pressure
- sore throat
- Loss of taste and smell
- Bad breath
How long do sinus infections last?
Sinus infections can last anywhere from 10 days to a few weeks. The duration of the infection depends on what’s causing your discomfort.
Most sinus infections are caused by viruses and usually resolve on their own within 10 to 14 days. However, bacterial sinus infections can last up to four weeks.
“Contact your doctor if you have a sinus infection that lasts eight weeks or longer, or if you have an infection for more than four weeks a year,” Dr. May advises. “You may have chronic sinusitis.”
sinus infection treatment
Just as the duration of a sinus infection depends on what’s causing the discomfort, treatment also depends on the cause. Bacterial sinus infections can be treated with antibiotics, decongestants, or prescription intranasal steroids.
“Even if your symptoms improve, make sure to complete the entire course of antibiotics,” Dr. May says. “Stopping antibiotics too early may lead to antibiotic resistance or recurrence of symptoms.”
Viral sinus infections, on the other hand, are best treated at home by managing symptoms while your body builds natural immunity and fights off the infection. These treatments are designed to soothe irritated passages, promote drainage, and relieve sinus pressure.
You can treat symptoms at home by:
drink lots of fluids
Staying hydrated keeps your sinuses moist, reduces irritation and thins mucus to improve drainage.
get enough rest
Getting enough sleep gives your body enough time to fight off the infection and speed recovery.
Rinse sinuses with saline solution
Continuous flushing of your sinuses can remove pathogens and other irritants. Benefits: It moisturizes the nasal passages, reduces inflammation and promotes drainage.
Use a humidifier at night
Adding moisture to the air you breathe helps reduce congestion.
Take a steamy shower
Breathing steam or applying heat to your eyes, nose, and cheeks can help empty your sinuses and relieve facial pain.
Try over-the-counter medications
Taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen can relieve fever, body aches, and headaches caused by a sinus infection. Cough suppressants can help relieve postnasal drip and sore throats. If allergies are the culprit, antihistamines can reduce inflammation. Ask your doctor about taking decongestants, which may help reduce inflammation and improve drainage.
“If your sinus infection lasts more than 10 days, you develop a fever or your symptoms seem to improve and then return, contact your doctor,” Dr. May says. “You may have a bacterial sinus infection, and the sooner it’s diagnosed, the sooner you can get the care you need for quick relief.”
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