Symptoms and causes

Symptoms

Acute sinusitis symptoms often include:

  • Drainage of a thick, yellow or greenish discharge from the nose or down the back of the throat (postnasal drainage)
  • Nasal obstruction or congestion, causing difficulty breathing through your nose
  • Pain, tenderness, swelling and pressure around your eyes, cheeks, nose or forehead that worsens when bending over

Other signs and symptoms can include:

  • Ear pressure
  • Headache
  • Aching in your upper jaw and teeth
  • Reduced sense of smell and taste
  • Cough, which might be worse at night
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

When to see a doctor

Most people with acute sinusitis don't need to see a doctor.

Contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Symptoms that either don't improve within a few days or worsen
  • 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, swelling or redness around your eyes
  • Swollen forehead
  • Severe, unrelenting headache
  • High fever
  • Confusion
  • Double vision or other vision changes
  • Stiff neck

Causes

Acute sinusitis is most often caused by the common cold, which is a viral infection. In some cases, a bacterial infection develops.

Risk factors

You may be at increased risk of getting sinusitis if you have:

  • Hay fever or another allergic condition that affects your sinuses
  • A nasal passage abnormality, such as a deviated nasal septum, nasal polyps or tumors
  • A medical condition such as cystic fibrosis or an immune system disorder such as HIV/AIDS

Complications

Acute sinusitis complications are uncommon. If they occur, they might include:

  • Chronic sinusitis. Acute sinusitis may be a flare-up of a long-term problem known as chronic sinusitis. Chronic sinusitis lasts longer than 12 weeks.
  • Meningitis. This infection causes inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord.
  • Other infections. Uncommonly, infection can spread to the bones (osteomyelitis) or skin (cellulitis).
  • Partial or complete loss of sense of smell. Nasal obstruction and inflammation of the nerve for smell (olfactory nerve) can cause temporary or permanent loss of smell.
  • Vision problems. If infection spreads to your eye socket, it can cause reduced vision or even blindness that can be permanent.