Sinusitis

Sinusitis is inflammation (swelling) of the lining of the sinuses. It's usually caused by a viral infection and often improves within two or three weeks. The sinuses are small, air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead.

Symptoms of sinusitis 

Sinusitis usually occurs after a viral infection, such as a cough or a cold. If you have a persistent cold and develop the symptoms below, you may have sinusitis. It is a common condition and can affect people of any age.

Symptoms of sinusitis include:

  • a green or yellow discharge from your nose
  • a blocked nose
  • pain and tenderness around your cheeks, eyes or forehead
  • a sinus headache
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or more
  • toothache
  • a reduced sense of smell
  • bad breath (halitosis)

Children with sinusitis may be irritable, breathe through their mouth, and have difficulty feeding. Their speech may also sound nasal (as though they have a stuffy cold).

The symptoms of sinusitis often clear up within a few weeks (acute sinusitis). Occasionally they can last three months or more (chronic sinusitis).

Treating sinusitis 

Most people with sinusitis don't need to see their doctor. The condition is normally caused by a viral infection that clears up on its own.

Your symptoms will usually pass within two or three weeks (acute sinusitis) and you can look after yourself at home.

Consider paracetamol or ibuprofen for pain or fever if you’re an adult, or have a child over five years of age with symptoms. Speak to your pharmacist about trying nasal saline, or nasal decongestants; although the evidence that these will help is not clear.

There is no evidence that using oral decongestants, antihistamines, mucolytics, steam inhalation, or warm face packs will help everyone with the symptoms, but some people may find them helpful.

When to see your GP 

If your symptoms are mild and getting better, you don't usually need to see your doctor and can look after yourself at home.

See your GP if:

  • your symptoms are severe or getting significantly worse after an initial milder form of the illness
  • your symptoms haven't started to improve after around 7-10 days
  • the sinusitis keeps coming back
  • the discharge from your nose looks a yellowish / creamy (pus) or bloody discharge as opposed to a green discharge

They may recommend additional treatment with corticosteroid drops or sprays, or antibiotics. This will depend on what is causing your symptoms.

If you have severe or recurrent sinusitis, they may refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist for further assessment.

Causes of sinusitis 

Sinusitis is usually the result of a cold or flu virus spreading to the sinuses from the upper airways. Only a few cases are caused by bacteria infecting the sinuses.

An infected tooth or fungal infection can also occasionally cause the sinuses to become inflamed.

It's not clear exactly what causes sinusitis to become chronic (long-lasting), but it has been associated with:

Making sure underlying conditions such as allergies and asthma are well controlled may improve the symptoms of chronic sinusitis.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was reviewed April 2018

This page is due for review April 2021

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