Every single one of us has gone through a cold. However, some people suffer from chronic symptoms of a classical cold: stiffness and pain in the nasal area with increased nasal discharge, that just doesn’t seem to stop. In some cases the allergies are what’s causing the symptoms, and in others the symptoms point to a sinus infection.
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.
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
- Aching in your upper jaw and teeth
- Reduced sense of smell and taste
- Cough, which might be worse at night
- Bad breath (halitosis)
The following factors can increase your risk of developing acute sinusitis:
- allergies or hay fever
- nasal passage abnormalities, such as a deviated septum or nasal polyp
- smoking or frequent breathing in of pollutants
- diseases that affect the function of cilia, such as Kartagener syndrome (a lung disease that affects cilia motility)
- large adenoids
- spending a lot of time in a daycare, preschool, or other areas where contagious viruses are frequently present
- activities that result in pressure changes, such as flying and scuba diving
- a weakened immune system
- cystic fibrosis
Acute sinusitis treatment
Most cases of acute sinusitis can be treated with home treatments, which include:
- a moist, warm washcloth held over your sinuses to loosen congestion
- a humidifier to loosen congestion
- saline nasal sprays, used several times a day to clear your nasal passages
- drinking plenty of fluids in order to thin mucus
- over-the-counter nasal corticosteroid sprays, such as Flonase or Nasonex, to reduce sinus inflammation
- over-the-counter decongestants, such as Sudafed or Actifed, to dry up mucus
- over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Advil, Tylenol, or Motrin, to relieve sinus pain
- sleeping with your head elevated to encourage your sinuses to drain
Most cases of acute sinusitis clear up with home treatment. Sometimes acute sinusitis does not clear up and leads to sub-acute sinusitis (lasting four to 12 weeks), or chronic sinusitis (lasting three months or longer). In very rare cases, sinusitis can lead to an infection that spreads to your eyes, ears, or bones, or causes meningitis. Call your healthcare provider if you experience a severe headache that does not respond to medication, a fever, or vision changes that occur during your acute sinusitis infection; these may be signs the infection has spread outside your sinuses.
Preventing acute sinusitis
You may be able to prevent getting acute sinusitis. Here’s how:
- Eat a healthy diet to keep your immune system strong.
- Avoid cigarette smoke and other air pollutants.
- Minimize your contact with people who have colds.
- Wash your hands often and before meals.
- Use a humidifier in dry weather to keep your sinuses moist and healthy.
- Get a flu vaccine yearly.
- Treat allergies promptly.
- Take decongestants when you have nasal congestion.