Runny nose, congestion, swollen, itching eyes, sore throat, headache… welcome to your sinus infection! And you aren’t alone; one in seven adults in the United States, or roughly 35 million people, will suffer the misery of a sinus infection this year, leading to 16 million doctor visits annually. A sinus infection, or sinusitis, can lead to lost workdays, less time with family, lack of exercise and leisure time, diminishing quality of life for you and those around you. Left untreated, a sinus infection can turn into a chronic condition or an even more serious problem. Learn how to get rid of a sinus infection and when to see a doctor.
Do I Have a Sinus Infection? Or Something Else?
A sinus infection can feel a lot like the common cold or seasonal allergies. Your average cold is caused by a virus. You may be stuffy, have a red runny nose, irritated eyes, have a phlegmy cough or sneeze. There is no cure for the common cold. It will build up, peak, and gradually disappear on its own. Allergies are caused by dust, mold, pollen, and pet dander. Symptoms include itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, post-nasal drip, and sneezing. Allergies are seasonal and disproportionally affect people in the western United States. A cold or an allergy can trigger a sinus infection.
Symptoms of a Sinus Infection
Like the common cold or seasonal allergies, a sinus infection includes congestion, itchy eyes and nose, or a runny nose, as well as pressure in the face and head that can be painful and debilitating. A sinus infection can cause a loss of smell, headaches, bad breath, and fatigue from difficulty breathing. A virus, fungus, or bacteria can trigger a sinus infection. A typical case of sinusitis will last about seven to 10 days. Symptoms persisting beyond 10 days can be indicative of a more serious case and bacterial infection requiring medical attention.
Remedies That Soothe Sinus Infection Symptoms
Self-care is often all you need to recover. If you’re wondering how to get rid of a sinus infection on your own, there are some remedies proven to ease those uncomfortable symptoms.
- Saline Nasal Sprays: Done several times a day, saline nasal sprays rinse and moisturize irritated nasal passages.
- Nasal Lavage: With a neti pot or specially designed squeeze bottle, nasal lavage, as well as using a humidifier or steam from a hot shower, will moisten dry sinuses and reduce inflammation, making it easier to breathe.
- Warm Compress: A warm compress on the nose and forehead can ease the pressure a sinus infection builds.
- Hydration and Rest: Proper hydration and adequate rest are key factors in maintaining good health.
- Nasal Corticosteroids: Sometimes a trip to the drugstore is helpful to pick up remedies like nasal corticosteroids, which include fluticasone (Flonase), budesonide (Rhinocort Allergy), mometasone (Nasonex), beclomethasone (Qnasl).
- Decongestants: A decongestant can be prescribed by your doctor or found over-the-counter. Use cautiously, however, as prolonged use of decongestants can make your problem worse, triggering rebound congestion.
- Allergy Treatments: Some sinus infections are caused by seasonal allergies so allergy medications and immunotherapies can help reduce symptoms.
- Pain Relievers: Pain and pressure can be alleviated by over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin.
Will Antibiotics Help Ease My Sinus Infection?
No — but sometimes yes. Since most sinus infections are caused by a virus, and viruses are not treated by antibiotics, the answer is no. Your infection will run its course over seven to 10 days and resolve on its own. Sometimes a sinus infection becomes chronic, lasting 12 weeks or more. With prolonged cases, a bacterial infection may develop, and antibiotics may be prescribed. It’s important to determine if your infection is bacterial since taking antibiotics unnecessarily can lead to harmful side effects and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If you are prescribed a course of antibiotics by your doctor, make sure to follow the instructions and take all the recommended doses.
Will a Sinus Infection Go Away on Its Own?
Often, a sinus infection will peter out after about 10 days. Home remedies can be enough to get you over the hump. However, some cases are more serious, lasting 12 weeks or more. A chronic sinus infection could mean there is an underlying bacterial infection that needs professional medical attention. Some infections will be accompanied by a fever. A fever is defined as a temperature of 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C) or greater and is the body’s way of fighting off infection. Fevers above 102 degrees warrant a call to your doctor or a visit to a walk-in urgent care.
What Happens if a Sinus Infection is Left Untreated?
Over-the-counter medications and home remedies can play vital roles in getting rid of a sinus infection. While your typical sinus infection will run its course in about 10 days, sometimes those uncomfortable symptoms linger 12 weeks or more. Serious, but thankfully rare, complications can arise if these chronic cases are left untreated. Lingering redness and swelling can cause eye damage and even blindness. Meningitis, an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord, or a brain abscess, a pus-filled pocket in your brain caused by infection, can occur. Less serious but nonetheless unpleasant symptoms like a lost or reduced sense of smell, bad breath, headache, fatigue, irritated voice box from draining mucus, and difficulty breathing can negatively impact your quality of life if your sinus infection goes untreated.
When Do I Need to See a Doctor?
When you have done all you know how to get rid of a sinus infection but still have protracted symptoms, it may be time to seek medical advice and treatment at a walk-in urgent care.
- Multiple Occurrences: For many people, a sinus infection is a rare event amounting to an uncomfortable 10 days, soothed by home remedies and over-the-counter medications. But for some, these infections can occur multiple times in the span of a year, wreaking havoc with a person’s ability to work, run a household, care for children and elderly parents, exercise, enjoy free time, and can create an undue burden on loved ones and co-workers. Multiple occurrences of a sinus infection can indicate a potentially serious underlying issue needing medical care.
- Worsening Symptoms: With a typical sinus infection, symptoms will gradually improve — much like the common cold. However, more severe cases will see symptoms worsening over days and weeks.
- Fever: If a fever develops, persisting more than three or four days, seek medical attention.
- Head or Facial Aches: Other symptoms cause facial pain around the eyes, nose, and forehead. These headaches can be debilitating and ongoing. A medical expert should be consulted to rule out or treat serious underlying conditions.
Find an Urgent Care Location Near You
The medical professionals at American Family Care are here to help you recover from your sinus infection. There is no need to call for an appointment or have a referral. Open seven days a week for extended early morning and late evening hours, we accept most insurance plans and offer affordable self-payment options. Our walk-in urgent care facilities are ready to help you and your family with all your healthcare needs. Click here to find a location near you.