Sinus infections - also known as sinusitis - are one of the most common diseases in the world. Millions of people suffer from sinusitis each year and for most of those people, the pain from swollen nasal passages and the pressure caused by the build-up of mucus in the sinus cavities is short-lived. In some people, however, sinusitis is a chronic issue with little to no relief. How do you know when it's time to see your doctor for a sinus issue?
The common cold vs a sinus infection
First, let's distinguish between the two very common infections: a cold and a sinus infection. Symptoms of a sinus infection are very similar to those of the common cold. However, when due to a cold virus, such symptoms typically improve in 1-2 weeks. If you continue to have nasal symptoms that linger after having a cold, then you may have developed a sinus infection. Symptoms of a sinus infection may include:
- Nasal congestion
- Nasal discharge that may be thick, and greenish or yellowish in color
- Headache (in acute sinusitis)
- Ear pain
- Toothache (dental pain)
- Facial pain and pressure that increases when you lie down or lean over
- Facial fullness or congestion
If you are experiencing sinus pressure and congestion for more than a few days with no improvement, make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will determine the cause of your infection and recommend treatment. Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed - but not always - as the cause of the sinus infection can vary.
Tips to relieve discomfort from sinus congestion and pressure
- Over-the-counter medications. Pain killers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help with headaches and discomfort. Decongestants or nasal sprays can help reduce mucus build-up. Always remember that over-the-counter medications should not be taken for more than ten days unless under doctor's orders and some can make your symptoms worse if overused.
- A warm wet towel on your face
- Sitting and breathing the warm steam from a hot shower or bath
- Nasal irrigation with a bulb syringe or neti pot
- Drinking plenty of fluids
A sinus infection can last for up to four weeks. If you have sinus problems that last longer than that or repeated bouts of sinus infections in a year, you may be suffering from chronic sinusitis.
Treatments for chronic sinusitis
Chronic sinusitis describes the condition of swollen, mucus-filled sinus cavities that last longer than eight weeks, despite treatment attempts. Your doctor may recommend that you undergo sinus surgery if you have chronic sinusitis with:
- Little or no relief from treatments
- Developed complications of sinusitis
- Obstruction of the sinuses by nasal polyps
- Fungal sinusitis
Surgical treatments are focused on draining and enlarging sinus openings to allow better drainage in the future. Surgery will also remove polyps if necessary.