Having a sinus infection is not fun, with all that pain and pressure in your face. Most of the time, though, it’s not a serious condition.
Also called sinusitis, this infection lasts a couple of weeks, and you can treat it at home.
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What Is a Sinus Infection?
Sinusitis is when the membranes inside your sinuses (the cavities in your skull) get inflamed and swollen. This causes many symptoms similar to a common cold, but with a few differences. With a sinus infection, you may have:
- Green or yellow mucus.
- Pain and pressure in your face, usually behind the eyes and around your nose.
- A runny nose.
- A mild fever.
- Chest discomfort.
At-Home Treatment for Sinusitis
Antibiotics are best used only when truly needed. While sinusitis may be caused by either bacteria or a virus, antibiotics will only help the bacterial form. Most of the time, your symptoms will clear up on their own with over-the-counter medications and home remedies.
Here are a few to try:
Steam and warm compresses
Sinus pressure is one of the worst symptoms of a sinus infection. You can help relieve it with steam and warmth by:
- Putting warm compresses on your face.
- Breathing in steam from a hot cup of tea or a shower.
- Taking a hot shower.
- Taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Wash out the mucus
- Drink lots of fluids to keep the mucus thin.
- Also try a Neti pot or nasal irrigation to wash out the mucus and help reduce the swelling in your nose.
When you blow your nose, do it gently, keeping both nostrils open. This helps prevent damage to your sinuses that can cause more problems.
Over-the-counter medications for sinusitis
Try over-the-counter medications designed to thin out the mucus, such as guaifenesin, or a decongestant. You can also try nasal sprays for a stuffy nose. These include decongestant types or steroid sprays. Just be sure to follow the directions on the label for any medication, and don’t use longer than recommended.
Medical Treatment for Sinus Infections
If your symptoms persist, you may need to schedule a visit with your doctor, urgent care center, or pharmacy. If you’ve gone a week or more with no improvement in your symptoms, additional treatment may be needed.
If the infection is caused by bacteria, a course of antibiotics may clear it up. Your doctor can also prescribe stronger decongestants or nasal sprays to help you find relief.
Surgery for chronic sinusitis
Chronic sinusitis, which is an infection that lasts for 12 weeks or more, requires more intense treatment. You may need multiple rounds of antibiotics or, in rare cases, surgery.
Sinus surgery helps open up the nasal cavities so the sinuses can drain better. The goal is to help prevent recurring, severe sinus infections in the future.
Most people don’t need surgery, but it may be recommended if you have repeated infections, have followed multiple courses of treatment with no improvement, or if you have a polyp in your nose that blocks your sinuses from draining.
When you feel symptoms of a sinus infection coming on, it’s best to begin with at-home treatment right away. Keep up with compresses, and avoid food or drinks that can make inflammation worse, including alcohol.
To learn more about treatment options for sinus infections and other sino-nasal disorders, visit the UPMC Sino-Nasal and Allergy Center website.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
About Ear Nose and Throat
The experts in the UPMC Department of Otolaryngology treat a variety of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) conditions in both children and adults. Our team includes board-certified physicians and highly skilled speech-language pathologists and audiologists. We provide both surgical and nonsurgical treatment options. Our research and clinical trials help to advance care for our patients. Find an ENT expert near you.