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What's Up with Sinusitis?

Millions of Americans are affected by sinusitis every year. But it's often misdiagnosed and misunderstood by people who have it.

Sinusitis affects the sinuses. The sinuses connect to the nasal passages. Sinusitis is swelling (inflammation) in these sinuses. It can be caused by allergies, certain medicines, infection, or changes in the air. Or it can be caused by problems in the sinuses themselves. Short-term (acute) sinusitis lasts less than 4 weeks. It's the most common form of this condition.

Your nose can get stuffy when you have a cold, so it's easy to confuse nasal congestion with rhinosinusitis. Acute rhinosinusitis is inflammation of both of the nasal passages and the sinuses. It lasts longer than a cold and causes some different symptoms. It often begins about 10 days after the start of a cold.

With sinusitis, you may have some or all of these symptoms:

  • Pain in the upper jaw and teeth

  • Headache when you wake up in the morning

  • Pain when your forehead or cheek is touched

  • Soreness when the sides of your nose are touched, a loss of smell, and a stuffy nose

  • Earaches, neck pain, and deep aching at the top of your head

  • Fever

  • Weakness

  • A cough that may be more severe at night

  • Runny nose or nasal congestion

  • Postnasal drainage of thick mucus

  • Sore throat

Get treatment

If you have sinusitis, your healthcare provider may prescribe decongestants, pain relievers, antibiotics (if the infection is bacterial), a steroid nasal spray, or a combination of these.

Use decongestant nose drops and sprays, such as oxymetazoline, for no more than 3 days. Using these medicines longer can lead to more congestion and swelling of your nasal passages.

Try prevention

The tips below may help reduce the number and severity of attacks. They may also prevent acute sinusitis from becoming an ongoing (chronic) problem:

  • Use a humidifier at night and drink plenty of water during the day. Follow the directions and clean the humidifier as directed. 

  • Don't smoke or use vaping devices, such as e-cigarettes, e-vaporizers, or electronic nicotine. Stay away from secondhand smoke and other air pollutants.

  • See your healthcare provider if you think your sinus inflammation may be linked to dust, mold, or pollen.

  • Don't drink alcohol. It causes nasal and sinus membranes to swell.

  • If you get a cold, clean your sinuses with sterile saline to keep mucus liquid. If you don't know how to do this, ask your healthcare provider for directions.

Online Medical Reviewer: Dan Brennan MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Sumana Jothi MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.