Acute sinusitis (acute rhinosinusitis) causes the cavities around your nasal passages (sinuses) to become inflamed and swollen. This interferes with drainage and causes mucus to build up. With acute sinusitis, it may be difficult to breathe through your nose. The area around your eyes and face may feel swollen, and you may have throbbing facial pain or a headache.
Acute sinusitis is most often caused by the common cold. Other triggers include allergies, bacterial and fungal infections. Treatment of acute sinusitis depends on the cause. In most cases, home remedies are all that’s needed. However, persistent sinusitis can lead to serious infections and other complications. Sinusitis that lasts more than eight weeks or keeps coming back is called chronic sinusitis.
Acute sinusitis symptoms often include:
Drainage of a thick, yellow or greenish discharge from the nose or down the back of the throat
Nasal obstruction or congestion, causing difficulty breathing through your nose
Pain, tenderness, swelling and pressure around your eyes, cheeks, nose or forehead
Reduced sense of smell and taste
Cough, which may be worse at night
Other signs and symptoms can include:
Aching in your upper jaw and teeth
Bad breath (halitosis)
When to see a doctor
If you have mild symptoms of sinusitis, try self-care.
Contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
Symptoms that don’t improve within a few days or symptoms that get worse
A persistent fever
A history of recurrent or chronic sinusitis
See a doctor immediately if you have signs or symptoms that may indicate a serious infection:
Pain or swelling around your eyes
Double vision or other vision changes
Shortness of breath
Acute sinusitis can be caused by:
Viral infection. Most cases of acute sinusitis are caused by the common cold.
Bacterial infection. When an upper respiratory tract infection persists longer than seven to 10 days, it’s more likely to be caused by a bacterial infection than by a viral infection.
Fungal infection. You’re at increased risk of a fungal infection if you have sinus abnormalities or a weakened immune system.
Some health conditions can increase your risk of getting a sinus infection that causes sinusitis, or can increase your risk of getting sinusitis that isn’t caused by an underlying infection. These conditions include:
Allergies such as hay fever. Inflammation that occurs with allergies may block your sinuses.
Nasal polyps or tumors. These tissue growths may block the nasal passages or sinuses.
Deviated nasal septum. A crooked septum — the wall between the nostrils — may restrict or block sinus passages.
Tooth infection. A small number of cases of acute sinusitis are caused by an infected tooth.
Other medical conditions. The complications of cystic fibrosis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or immune system disorders may result in blocked sinuses or an increased risk of infection
Acute sinusitis complications include:
Asthma flare-ups. Acute sinusitis can trigger an asthma attack.
Chronic sinusitis. Acute sinusitis may be a flare-up of a long-term problem known as chronic sinusitis. Chronic sinusitis is sinusitis that lasts longer than eight weeks.
Meningitis. This occurs when infection spreads to the lining of the brain.
Vision problems. If infection spreads to your eye socket, it can cause reduced vision or even blindness. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment to prevent potentially permanent damage.
Ear infection. Acute sinusitis may occur with an ear infection.
Treatment and Drugs
Most cases of acute sinusitis don’t need treatment because they’re caused by viruses that also cause the common cold. Self-care techniques are usually the only treatment needed to speed recovery and ease symptoms.
Treatments to relieve symptoms
Your doctor may recommend treatments to help relieve sinusitis symptoms, including:
Saline nasal spray, which you spray into your nose several times a day to rinse your nasal passages.
Nasal corticosteroids. These nasal sprays help prevent and treat inflammation. Examples include fluticasone (Flonase), mometasone (Nasonex), budesonide (Rhinocort Aqua), triamcinolone (Nasacort AQ) and beclomethasone (Beconase AQ).
Decongestants. These medications are available in over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription liquids, tablets and nasal sprays.
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others).
Antibiotics usually aren’t needed to treat acute sinusitis. Antibiotic treatment is generally needed only if the infection is severe, recurrent or persistent. Antibiotics used to treat acute sinusitis caused by a bacterial infection include amoxicillin (Amoxil, others), doxycycline (Doryx, Monodox, others) or the combination drug trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Septra, others). If the infection doesn’t go away or if the sinusitis comes back, your doctor may try a different antibiotic.
If your doctor does prescribe antibiotics, it’s critical to take the entire course of medication. Generally, this means you’ll need to take them for 10 to 14 days — even after your symptoms get better. If you stop taking them early, your symptoms may come back.
Rarely, acute sinusitis is caused by a fungal infection, which can be treated with antifungal medication. The dose of medication — as well as how long you’ll need to take it — depends on the severity of your infection and how quickly your symptoms improve.
If allergies are contributing to your sinusitis, allergy shots (immunotherapy) that help reduce the body’s reaction to specific allergens may help treat your symptoms.
Take these steps to help reduce your risk of getting acute sinusitis:
Avoid upper respiratory infections. Minimize contact with people who have colds. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially before your meals.
Carefully manage your allergies. Work with your doctor to keep symptoms under control.
Avoid cigarette smoke and polluted air. Tobacco smoke and other pollutants can irritate and inflame your lungs and nasal passages.
Use a humidifier. If the air in your home is dry, such as it is if you have forced-air heat, adding moisture to the air may help prevent sinusitis. Be sure the humidifier stays clean and free of mold with regular, thorough cleaning.