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Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinus cavities, usually associated with an infection. The sinus cavities are air-filled spaces in the skull.

Acute sinusitis lasts for less than three weeks. Chronic sinusitis occurs when symptoms last for at least three months. You may have recurrent sinusitis if you have repeated bouts of acute sinusitis.

Sinus Infection


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Causes of Sinusitis

Infectious sinusitis is caused by bacterial or fungal infection of the sinus cavities. The most common organisms to cause acute sinusitis include:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Moraxella catarrhalis

Are You at Risk?

The following factors increase your chance of developing sinusitis:

  • Recent viral infection
  • Smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Other sources of indoor or outdoor air pollution
  • Allergies, particularly hay fever and asthma
  • Abnormalities of the facial bones, sinuses or nasal passages, such as:
    • Deviated septum
    • Nasal polyps
    • Cleft palate
    • Large adenoids
  • Certain chronic illnesses, including:
    • Cystic fibrosis
    • Kartagener's syndrome (a chronic lung disease) and immotile cilia syndrome
    • Wegener's granulomatosis (rare disease that causes blood vessel walls to become inflamed)
    • Asthma
    • Sarcoidosis
  • HIV infection and other disorders of the immune system
  • Diabetes
  • Head injury or a medical condition requiring a tube to be inserted into the nose
  • Cocaine and other drugs inhaled through the nose

Sinusitis Symptoms

Symptoms of sinusitis may include:

  • Facial pain or pressure that increases when you bend over or press on the area
  • Headache
  • Nasal congestion not responding well to either decongestants or antihistamines
  • Runny nose or postnasal drip
  • Thick, yellow or green mucus
  • Bad breath
  • Cough, often worse at night
  • Ear pain, pressure or fullness
  • Fever
  • Dental pain
  • Facial congestion or fullness
  • Fatigue

Diagnosing Sinusitis

Your doctor can diagnose sinusitis based on your symptoms and tenderness of the sinuses when pressed.

Tests may include:

  • Holding a flashlight up to the sinuses to see if they're illuminated
  • CT scan or X-ray of the sinuses to look for fluid in the sinus
  • Removing sinus fluid through a needle for testing (rare)
  • Endoscopic examination of the sinuses — threading a tiny, lighted tube into the nasal cavities to view the sinus opening

You have may acute sinusitis when the following occurs:

  • History of 10 or more days of colored mucus
  • Tenderness over the sinuses
  • Fever
  • Visible infected mucus in the nose
  • Difficulty smelling

Sinusitis Treatment

Home Care

  • Hydrating — Drinking lots of fluids may keep your nasal secretions thin. This will avoid plugging up your nasal passages and sinuses. Salt water nose sprays or irrigation may also loosen nasal secretions.
  • Steam treatments — Keep a humidifier running in your bedroom. Fill a bowl with steaming water every couple of hours. Make a steam tent with a towel over your head. This will let you breathe in the steam.
  • Nasal and sinus washes


  • Decongestants — Use either decongestant pills or nasal sprays to shrink nasal passages. Do not use nasal sprays for longer than 3-4 days in a row.
  • Intranasal corticosteroids — You inhale these directly into your nose through a nasal spray. Corticosteroids may help relieve congestion by decreasing swelling in the lining of the nose in people with allergies.
  • Antihistamines — Allergy medication may help sinusitis symptoms if they are caused by allergies. However, they may also dry out the nose.
  • Guaifenesin — This medicine can help you cough up secretions, but hydration is more effective.
  • Antibiotics — Your doctor may give you antibiotics if you have a bacterial infection.
  • Over-the-counter medicine — You can use acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin to treat sinus pain.


Surgery is a last resort for people with very troublesome, serious chronic sinusitis. It includes:

  • Repair of a deviated septum
  • Removal of nasal polyps
  • Functional endoscopic sinus surgery — a lighted scope enlarges the sinuses to improve drainage

Need Better Sinus Relief?

Balloon Sinuplasty™ may be the treatment for your mild to moderate sinusitis you need. This innovative, safe and effective way to open up blocked sinus passages:

  • Offers faster recovery time
  • Incurs less risk of scarring and infection
  • Can be done in the office
  • Requires no general anesthesia
  • Does not involve cutting tissue

During this procedure, we use a specially designed balloon to open up your sinus cavity; we then flush out pus and mucus blocking the sinuses. Afterward, the sinuses remain open, relieving pressure while allowing for normal drainage.

Tips to Help Avoid Sinusitis

Some tips to help avoid developing sinusitis during a cold or allergy flare up include the following:

  • Use an oral decongestant following the instructions of your doctor and the manufacturer.
  • Blow the nose gently, blocking one nostril while blowing through the other.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep nasal discharge thin.
  • Use salt water rinses once or twice a daily.
  • Avoid air travel. If it is necessary to fly, use an oral decongestant one hour before take-off to prevent blockage of the sinuses.
  • Avoid contact with allergy triggers, or use prescription antihistamines and a nasal steroid spray to control allergy attacks.

Make an Appointment

Call us at 434.243.3675.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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