What is a sinus infection?

The fastest way to get rid of a sinus infection can include medications, home remedies, alternative therapies, and surgery.
The fastest way to get rid of a sinus infection can include medications, home remedies, alternative therapies, and surgery.

Sinus infections are quite common. They affect about 29 million people per year in the United States. That's about 12% of the U.S. population.

A sinus infection, or sinusitis, is inflammation or swelling of the tissue in your sinuses. Most sinus infections are triggered by viruses, but they can also be triggered by bacteria or fungi.

Symptoms of a sinus infection

Symptoms of a sinus infection may include:

Diagnosis of a sinus infection

Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose a sinus infection, so make sure you review your symptoms with one. A healthcare professional may diagnose your sinus infection using these methods:

  • Performing a physical exam
  • Running an imaging test like a CT scan or an MRI
  • In severe cases, ordering a rhinoscopy or nasal endoscopy, a procedure that involves inserting a flexible instrument up the nostrils to look for blockages

Another part of diagnosing a sinus infection is identifying triggers like allergic rhinitis or frequent stuffy or runny noses related to allergies.

Treatments for a sinus infection

At-home, natural treatments like nasal irrigation may be the first thing on your mind when you think of treatments for a sinus infection.

However, natural remedies may not cut it at times. If natural treatments for sinus infections don’t work, your medical provider might recommend medications like antibiotics or decongestants.

Medications

Your doctor might recommend one or a combination of the following medications to help decrease inflammation in the nose and sinuses, reduce pain and improve sinus drainage.

Common medications include:

  • Steroid nasal spray
  • Antibiotics
  • Decongestants
  • Antihistamines
  • Pain relievers

Home care

Many sinus infection home care remedies are still effective. Some simple suggestions for treating your sinus infection are:

  • A nasal rinse or wash 
  • A cold compress on or around your eyes and forehead
  • Steam
  • Using a humidifier at night
  • Drinking plenty of water

Alternative therapies

Some providers may recommend alternative therapies for sinus infections, like nutritional supplements, herbs, or acupuncture. There are risks to any treatment methods, however, and you should always consult with a specialist before beginning any treatment plan for your sinus infections.

Surgery

In extreme cases, sinus surgery may be necessary to remove whatever is blocking nasal passages. That may be small pieces of bone, swollen or damaged tissue, or nasal polyps.

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Complications and side effects of a sinus infection

You have plenty of choices for how you want to treat a sinus infection, but none of them are without the risk of side effects or complications.

Risks from medications

Medications that temporarily relieve congestion can also increase your risk for sinusitis. Decongestants and antihistamines can dry out the mucous membranes in your nose and sinuses.

Decongestants and antihistamines can make it more difficult to prevent and relieve sinus infections, but corticosteroids carry additional risks.

Potential side effects of using corticosteroids long-term or repeatedly include:

  • Edema (fluid retention)
  • High blood pressure
  • Gastrointestinal issues like sensitive stomach, diarrhea, or ulcers. Antibiotics are also common triggers for these issues.

While herbal supplements have their place, they carry a risk of side effects as well, so you should use them only in consultation with a medical provider.

You should also consider any other medications you take and how they might interact with sinus infection treatments. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor.

Risks of sinus surgery

Surgery may come with its own complications. That's why it's important to weigh the risks and benefits with your doctor.

Possible side effects of sinus surgery include:

  • Changes in breathing
  • Changes in sense of smell
  • Infection
  • Vision changes
  • Bleeding
  • A leak in cerebrospinal fluid, a type of spinal cord injury

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Medically Reviewed on 3/3/2021
References
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Sinusitis."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Chronic Sinusitis"

Centers for Disease Control: "Sinus Infection (Sinusitis)."

ENTtoday: "Alternative Remedies for Chronic Rhinosinusitis: Are complementary and alternative treatments harmful or advisable?"

Harvard Health Publishing: "What to do about sinusitis."

Hospital for Special Surgery: "Steroid Side Effects: How to Reduce Drug Side Effects of Corticosteroids."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Endoscopic Sinus Surgery."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Preparing for Endoscopic Sinus Surgery."

National Jewish Health: "Sinusitis Medications."

Sjogren's Foundation: "Simple Solutions for Dry Nose and Sinuses."

St. Luke's Hospital: "Sinusitis."