Overview

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 might be difficult to breathe through your nose. The area around your eyes and face might feel swollen, and you might have throbbing facial pain or a headache.

Acute sinusitis is mostly caused by the common cold. Unless a bacterial infection develops, most cases resolve within a week to 10 days.

In most cases, home remedies are all that's needed to treat acute sinusitis. However, persistent sinusitis can lead to serious infections and other complications. Sinusitis that lasts more than 12 weeks despite medical treatment is called chronic sinusitis.

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

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.

Prevention

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.
  • 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.
July 29, 2017
References
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  4. Sinusitis (sinus infection). National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/sinusitis/pages/index.aspx. Accessed Jan. 14, 2016.
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