Have you ever had a cold that just wouldn’t go away? It was most likely a sinus infection, or inflammation of the paranasal sinuses, which are the cavities within the bones of your nose. A thin membrane that produces mucus lines the sinuses. Normally, the mucus is swept along by hair cells and drains through small openings in the nasal cavity. Sinusitis, another name for a sinus infection, begins when this drainage system becomes blocked, often by swelling from inflammation caused by an infection or allergy.
As a result, your head hurts; your face feels sensitive to touch; and your nose is congested. These symptoms tend to persist or repeatedly return after a day or two of relief.
For a diagnosis, your doctor can usually confirm a sinus infection with a physical exam.
They will ask about your symptoms and look inside your nose. They may also feel for tenderness around your nose and face. Other methods used to confirm sinusitis include:
- Nasal endoscopy: Here, an endoscope (thin, flexible tube) with a fiber-optic light is inserted through your nose to allow your primary care physician to inspect the inside of your sinuses.
- CT scan: Imaging studies show the details of your nasal and sinuses area. Typically, a CT scan is not recommended for a sinus infection but may help find abnormalities or complications.
- Nasal and sinus samples: If your condition fails to respond to treatment or continues to get worse, tissue samples may help determine the cause.
- Allergy tests: If your doctor is concerned that allergies triggered your sinus infection, he will recommend an allergy skin test, a safe and quick way to pinpoint the allergen that’s giving you trouble.
To prepare for your appointment, consider your answers to the following questions.
- When did your symptoms begin?
- Have they been continuous or occasional?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- Is there anything that improves or worsens your symptoms?
- Do you smoke? Are you often around smoke or other pollutants?
You may also want to have a list of questions for the doctor focused on your symptoms, other health conditions, potential tests and treatments, and more.
Usually, a sinus infection gets better on its own. Fortunately, self-care techniques help to ease the symptoms.
You can rinse your nasal passages with a saline nasal spray (a home remedy called nasal lavage) or treat inflammation with a nasal corticosteroid spray, such as fluticasone or budesonide. You can also take over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription decongestants for a few days. Prolonged use may lead to more severe congestion known as rebound congestion. If the cause of your sinusitis is allergies, you can take allergy medications to lessen your symptoms. Lastly, OTC pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can also make you feel better.
Of course, you should rest and allow your body to recover. Be sure to drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration. A warm compress on your nose and/or forehead may help relieve some of the sinus pressure. You can also moisten your sinus cavities by breathing in vapor from a bowl of hot water or a hot shower. This process will help ease your pain and also drain mucus.