Sinus trouble: consider the causes

You know the jolly little jingle: April showers bring May flowers. But the month can also bring sinus problems. Not only do allergies peak in the spring, but humid air can cause a clogged or stuffy feeling in the nose. An infection—either brief or long-lasting—can also take hold.

Sinus ailments are not only a burden for springtime sufferers, they can be a challenge for doctors, too, especially as patients and doctors alike are on high alert for warning signs of a possible COVID-19 infection. Three of the most common causes of sinus symptoms are allergies, viral infections and bacterial infections. But these can be tough to tell apart because of overlapping symptoms.

So are you battling a common cold, agitated by allergies, or suffering from a more serious sinusitis? Or, perhaps you’re wondering if your symptoms are a sign of a COVID-19 infection. Sinus infections affect 35 million people in the U.S. every year1 and usually require various remedies for relief. Read on for a review of sinus symptoms and ways to manage the misery.

The lowdown on stressed sinuses

A flare-up of seasonal allergies, called hay fever, causes stuffy noses and irritated sinuses. But allergy sufferers will notice mainly that they have a runny (and sometimes itchy) nose with clear output and itchy, watery eyes. Their symptoms are also often tied to certain times of year and specific allergens like animal dander, dust or pollen.

If you’re plugged up with thick mucus that’s green or yellow, you could have an infection. Sinus infections—whether caused by bacteria or a virus—can also bring along other symptoms like mild headache, fatigue, weakness or a cough. Viruses are far more likely to be the cause of sinus infections. Certain symptoms increase the probably of bacterial sinusitis:

  • Persistent symptoms for longer than 10 days, especially with “double worsening.” This means symptoms start to improve and then get worse a few days later.
  • A fever, especially a high one over 102 ℉.
  • Asymmetric pain (one side much worse than the other) in one or more sinus areas. These include under or above the eyes and above the bridge of the nose.

“A bacterial infection could be serious if you’re having a severe or constant headache, neck pain or stiffness, extreme sleepiness, or a change in mental state,” warns Kyon Hood, MD, FAAP, president, Teladoc Physicians, P.A.. Some of these symptoms overlap with serious or worsening COVID-19 infections, so it important to keep a close eye on any symptoms that may signal low blood-oxygen levels, like persistent pain or pressure in the chest, trouble breathing, new confusion or pale, gray or bluish tone to the skin, lips or nail beds, depending on skin tone. “Also watch out for redness and swelling of the cheek, forehead or around the eyes; or double vision, decreased vision or pain when opening or moving your eyes,” he adds.

Pain in the face for a few days in a row along with worsening symptoms may require treatment, Dr. Hood explains, but notes that determining the difference between a bacterial and viral infection isn’t always clear-cut.

How you can find relief

It’s important to review your symptoms and how long you’ve been having them with a physician. Teladoc doctors can help you determine the possible cause of your symptoms, especially if you’re concerned you may have COVID-19. If your sinus problems are caused by allergies, there are strategies and medications that can help bring relief. While bothersome mucus is often an effect of a viral infection, a bacterial infection can develop after a virus has taken hold. In this case, oral antibiotics can help with healing.

Regardless of what’s causing all this congestion, try to put the to-do list aside and get some rest. If you’re having pain, you can take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Petroleum jelly can soothe a sore nose on the outside, while nasal drops or a nasal irrigation device (like the neti pot) can help flush out nasal passages on the inside. “Treat and blow each nostril separately,” Dr. Hood advises.

Also, don’t forget about all that mucus you’re losing: Moisture should play a key role in your return to good health. “Drink plenty of liquids like water, juice, warm broth or soup,” Dr. Hood says, “and use a cool-mist humidifier to soothe the airways, especially when sleeping.” Steam from hot showers can help reduce inflammation and make breathing easier. Also try a warm compress on the nose, cheekbones or forehead for relief, he adds.

Pseudoephedrine (also known as Sudafed), an OTC oral decongestant, can help relieve congestion, says Dr. Hood. He notes that certain people—such as those with high blood pressure—must use this medicine with caution. Dr. Hood advises against topical decongestants or nasal sprays such as oxymetazoline (also known as Afrin). “These can cause ‘rebound congestion,’ which actually increases the frequency of runny noses after the medication wears off,” he explains.

Remember that many sinus problems have overlapping symptoms, so it’s best to talk to a Teladoc physician about what’s causing the issue. Start with a simple, convenient phone or video visit with one of our U.S. board-certified doctors who are available 24/7. Let’s get to the root of the illness so you don’t have to suffer with your sinuses any longer.

1https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/232670-overview

This portion of the Teladoc website occasionally offers health, fitness and nutritional information and is provided for educational purposes only. You cannot rely on any information provided here as a substitute for or replacement of professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Teladoc cannot assure that the information contained on this site always includes the most recent findings or developments with respect to the particular subject matter covered.

If you ever have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional. Do not disregard, avoid or delay obtaining medical or health-related advice from your healthcare professional because of something you may have read on this site. The use of any information provided on this site is solely at your own risk.

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