“When I lean forward, I feel as though a brick got dropped inside my head.” If this uncomfortable description sounds familiar, you may have a sinus infection. Also called sinusitis or acute rhinosinusitis, a sinus infection occurs when the tissue in the cavities around our sinuses swell. The swelling blocks the nasal passages (sinuses), so the natural nasal fluid (mucus) can’t drain normally. The mucus gets trapped, fills up the sinus cavities, and can become infected.

Causes

One of the concerns during cold and flu season is having your condition worsen into something like a sinus infection. You can get a sinus infection from a virus or bacteria. Antibiotics may help only if the infection was caused by bacteria, not a virus such as the flu or a cold.

Symptoms

In many ways a sinus infection may feel like other illnesses. But feeling extra tired (fatigue) could be a tell-tale sign that you might have something more than seasonal allergies. Other symptoms include:

  • no sense of taste or smell
  • trouble sleeping
  • pain or pressure in or around the face and head (including the ears, teeth, and jaws)
  • swelling around the nose or eyes
  • thick, sometimes discolored mucus
  • stopped-up nose
  • postnasal drip
  • sore throat
  • cough, especially at night (usually from the postnasal drip)

Prevention

One of the most effective ways to avoid a sinus infection or other upper respiratory infection is to keep your hands away from your face. You also want to wash your hands often with hot, soapy water (be sure to rub your hands together, clean under your nails, use lots of soap, wash for at least 20 seconds, and dry your hands thoroughly). If you’re already under the weather, be sure to get plenty of rest to help keep your illness from progressing to something worse.

Treatment

Water is a versatile natural ally in the fight against sinus infections. SHORT is a simple acronym to help you remember these effective treatment options:

  • S: Steam helps keep your nasal passages moist. Try taking a hot shower or bath, breathing in vapors rising from a hot cup of tea, or plugging in a humidifier or vaporizer to introduce moist air into your nose.
  • H: Hydration is especially important when you’re sick. Be sure to drink lots of water. (QuickTip: Avoid caffeinated beverages to help lessen the chance of becoming dehydrated.)
  • O: Over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestants can be a great help. You can also make a warm or cold compress with a wash cloth and place it on your forehead or the bridge of your nose to help reduce pain, pressure, or congestion.
  • R: Rinse out your nasal passages; squirt saline solution into your nostrils to loosen and flush out mucus.
  • T: Trust Teladoc to help diagnose your condition and recommend treatment options.

You also want to avoid smoke and allergens as much as possible while you’re recovering. This includes keeping windows closed to prevent airborne irritants from getting into your home.

When to talk to a doctor

An acute sinus infection may clear up within a week to 10 days. But you may want to talk to a doctor if:

  • you have a fever
  • your nasal congestion thickens and changes color
  • your symptoms get worse
  • you’re still sick after 10 days

No matter how far along you are with a sinus infection, you can reach out to Teladoc any time for help. Our board-certified physicians are available 24/7 by app, web, or phone. If medication is medically necessary, the doctor can even send a prescription to the pharmacy of your choice.

 

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If you are in the United States and think you are having a medical or health emergency, call your health care professional, or 911, immediately.

The COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly evolving. While we are continuously reviewing and updating our content, some of the information in this article may not reflect the most up-to-date scientific information. Please visit the online resources provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and your local public health department to stay informed on the latest news, or reach out to Teladoc to speak with one of our board-certified physicians.