5 Signs You May Have a Sinus Infection

  • Young Caucasian man wrapped in blanket on couch with cough due to cold or pneumonia
    What Is a Sinus Infection?
    Nearly 30 million adults are diagnosed with sinusitis—commonly known as a sinus infection—each year. Sinusitis occurs when your sinuses become inflamed and swollen. Sinusitis can be caused by bacteria or a virus. Sinusitis can even become chronic—lasting longer than four weeks, more than four times a year. Chronic sinusitis is usually caused by or associated with nasal polyps, allergies, or respiratory tract infections. How do you know if you have a sinus infection? These five telltale signs should help you decide whether to call your doctor.

  • woman with headache in front of computer
    1. Head Pain
    Pain is one of the most common signs of sinusitis. It usually occurs in your forehead, upper jaw and teeth, between your eyes, or in your neck. Where you experience pain depends on which pair of sinuses is infected. You have four pairs of sinuses, including your frontal, which are near your forehead. Your maxillary sinuses are by your cheekbones. Your ethmoid sinuses are between your eyes. Your sphenoid sinuses are behind the ethmoid sinuses.

  • senior male blowing nose with tissue
    2. Thick, Colored Nasal Secretions
    Thick nasal secretions are another sign of sinusitis. The secretions can be white, greenish, yellowish, or tinged with blood. If the secretions drip into the back of your throat, it can be difficult to clear your throat. With a sinus infection, you’re likely to have a stuffy nose. Your face may also feel full.

  • Sick woman taking her temperature
    3. Fever
    Sinusitis can be associated with fever—a body temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. An over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) can help relieve pain and fever associated with sinusitis, when taken as directed. Check with your doctor before giving a pain reliever to your child. If your child is younger than three months and has a fever, see your doctor right away. 

  • Businessman asleep on train
    4. Fatigue
    You’re likely to feel tired if you have sinusitis. Fatigue also comes with a head cold and allergies, so take an inventory of all your symptoms to help figure out if your fatigue could be due to sinusitis. Getting plenty of rest can help you feel better, especially if your sinus infection is caused by a virus. Antibiotics can’t treat a viral infection, so rest and drinking lots of fluids are the best remedy.

  • 2017-health-insurance-changes-calendar-on-desk
    5. Symptoms That Last More Than Two Weeks
    If you have what feels like a cold for weeks and weeks, there’s a good chance you actually have a sinus infection. It’s easy to confuse the two. The common cold typically lasts 7 to 14 days. Acute sinusitis, on the other hand, can last up to four weeks. A subacute form of sinusitis can last 4 to 12 weeks, and chronic sinusitis can last 12 weeks or more, continuing for months and years.

  • humidifer-in-room
    Getting Relief
    Antibiotics will not treat sinusitis caused by a virus. But you can help yourself by drinking plenty of fluids, using a clean humidifier, taking a hot shower and breathing in the steam, and avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke. Putting a warm compress over your nose and forehead can also help relieve sinus pressure. An over-the-counter pain reliever may help reduce the swelling in your nasal passages so you can breathe easier.

  • Woman-patient-consulting-with-doctor
    When to Call the Doctor
    See your doctor if your symptoms last more than 10 days, you’ve had several episodes of sinusitis in the past year, and/or over-the-counter medicines don’t relieve your symptoms. Your doctor can determine if you have the bacterial form of sinusitis, which can be treated with antibiotics. If your symptoms continue to get worse or if you have other concerns, call your doctor for a follow-up appointment. In rare cases, sinusitis can cause brain infection and other serious complications.

5 Signs You May Have a Sinus Infection
  1. Chronic sinusitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/sinuses.htm.  Accessed November 26, 2013.
  2. Sinus infection (sinusitis). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/antibiotic-use/uri/sinus-infection.html. Accessed November 26, 2013.
  3. Symptom relief. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  http://www.cdc.gov/getmart/antibiotic-use/uri/symptom-relief.html. Accessed November 26, 2013.
  4. What are the symptoms of sinusitis? National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/sinusitis/Pages/symptoms.aspx. Accessed November 26, 2013.
  5. Where are my sinuses? National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.  www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/sinusitis/Pages/where.aspx. Accessed November 26, 2013.
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Last Review Date: 2019 Jan 2
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