Your sinuses are chambers in your skull around your nose and eyes. They are filled with air. Sinusitis is an infection of these chambers, which causes them to become swollen or inflamed.
What to expect
Many cases of sinusitis clear up on their own. Most of the time, you do not need antibiotics if your sinusitis lasts for less than 2 weeks. Even when you do use antibiotics, they may only slightly reduce the time you are sick.
Your health care provider is more likely to prescribe antibiotics if your sinusitis lasts longer than 2 weeks or recurs often.
Your provider may also refer you to an ear, nose, and throat doctor or an allergy specialist.
Keeping mucus thin will help it drain from your sinuses and relieve your symptoms. Drinking plenty of clear fluids is one way to do this. You can also:
- Apply a warm, moist washcloth to your face several times a day.
- Inhale steam 2 to 4 times a day. One way to do this is to sit in the bathroom with the shower running. Do not inhale hot steam.
- Spray with nasal saline several times per day.
Use a humidifier to keep the air in your room moist.
You can buy nasal sprays that relieve stuffiness or congestion without a prescription. They may help at first, but using them for more than 3 to 5 days can cause your symptoms to get worse.
To further relieve your symptoms, avoid:
- Flying when you are congested
- Very hot or very cold temperatures or sudden changes in temperature
- Bending forward with your head down
Allergies and sinusitis
Allergies that are not well-controlled can make sinus infections harder to treat.
You can do many things to limit your exposure to triggers, things that make your allergies worse.
Do not self-treat by taking leftover antibiotics you may have at home. If your health care provider prescribes antibiotics for your sinus infection, follow these general rules for taking them:
- Take all of the pills as prescribed, even if you feel better before you finish them.
- Always dispose of any unused antibiotic pills you may have at home.
Watch for common side effects of antibiotics, including:
- Skin rashes
- For women, yeast infection of the vagina (vaginitis)
Stay healthy to avoid sinus infections
Reduce stress and get enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep makes you more likely to get sick.
Other things you can do to prevent infections:
- If you smoke, stop.
- Avoid secondhand smoke.
- Get a flu shot every year.
- Wash your hands often, especially after shaking other people's hands.
- Treat your allergies.
When to call the doctor
Call your doctor if:
- Your symptoms last longer than 10 to 14 days
- You have a severe headache that does not get better when you use pain medicine
- You have a fever
- You still have symptoms after taking all of your antibiotics properly
- You have any changes in your vision
- You notice small growths in your nose
Rosenfeld RM, Andes D, Bhattacharyya N, et al. Clinical practice guideline: adult sinusitis. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2007;137:S1-S31. PMID: 17761281 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17761281.
Wilson JF. In the clinic. Acute sinusitis. Ann Intern Med. 2010 Sep 7;153(5):ITC31-ITC315; quiz ITC316. PMID: 20820036 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20820036.
Update Date 5/18/2014
Updated by: Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.