What is a sinus infection?

Sinus infections can be treated with medications and self-care measures.
Sinus infections can be treated with medications and self-care measures.

The sinuses are air-filled cavities that surround the nose and drain into the nose. They are present in the forehead, the cheeks and near the eyes.

A sinus infection occurs when the sinus gets blocked and mucus gets trapped in the sinuses. This causes viruses, bacteria or rarely fungi to grow easily due to the moist and stagnant environment. This is also called acute sinusitis.

What are the signs and symptoms of a sinus infection?

Symptoms of a sinus infection include

How is a sinus infection treated?

Medical treatment

  • Over-the-counter medications: OTC medication like paracetamol or ibuprofen can help relieve symptoms such as pain and fever
  • Nasal decongestant sprays: Nasal decongestant sprays like oxymetazoline can reduce swelling and congestion, relieving nasal obstruction. But, they should not be used for too long as long-term use of these sprays can damage the nasal mucosa. Hence, should be used after consulting with a doctor.
  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics may be prescribed by a doctor to get rid of the infection faster and prevent complications.

Supportive treatment

People may be able to treat a sinus infection at home by relieving painful symptoms and taking steps to allow the immune system to fight off the infection.

  • Humidifiers: A humidifier adds moisture to the air which reduces dryness and softens dried mucus, helping the mucus clear out easily.
  • Nasal irrigation: Nasal irrigation with saline using products like a neti pot, a small container with a spout, is used to  irrigate the nose. If saline is not readily available, a mixture of one-half teaspoon of salt and one-half teaspoon of baking soda mixed with two cups of sterile water can be prepared. Nasal irrigation can flush out excess mucus, bacteria and crusts, reducing nasal congestion.
  • Steam inhalation: Steam inhalation can moisten dried mucus and crusts, reducing nasal congestion. Excessive steam inhalation or keeping the face too close to the steamer should be avoided as it could cause dryness.
  • Rest: Getting adequate rest can help the body recover faster.  
  • Hydration: Drinking plenty of clear fluids will help you remain hydrated. Staying hydrated  can also help moisten and  loosen mucus and clear congestion.
  • Warm compresses: Applying a warm compress over the face can help reduce pain and nasal congestion.


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What are the complications of a sinus infection?

Though most cases of acute sinusitis do not have any complications, if not treated, the following rare complications can occur

  • Chronic sinusitis: Acute sinusitis that is not treated properly can lead to chronic sinusitis with multiple flare-ups of acute infection.
  • Meningitis: Sinus infection can cause inflammation of the tissues and fluid  surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
  • Osteomyelitis and cellulitis: Infection can spread to the bones (osteomyelitis) or skin (cellulitis).
  • Eye complications: The infection spreads to the  eyes causing redness of the eyes, watering of the eyes, protrusion of the eyeball, decreased vision or blindness.

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Medically Reviewed on 9/15/2020
Medscape Medical Reference