How Long Does a Sinus Infection Last?

Medically Reviewed By Nicole Leigh Aaronson, MD, MBA, CPE, FACS, FAAP

How long a sinus infection lasts can vary widely. Acute sinusitis lasts up to 4 weeks, while subacute cases last 4 to 12 weeks, and chronic cases over 12 weeks. Viruses, bacteria, and fungi can all cause sinus infections or sinusitis.

Sinus infections often last a few weeks. In some cases, they last much longer.

Talk with a doctor if you have severe, persistent, or concerning symptoms.

This article explains how long a sinus infection can last, signs of recovery, when to contact a doctor, and sinus infection treatment.

Sinus infection duration

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How long a sinus infection lasts can be different each time.

Doctors can categorize sinus infections based on how long they last:

Some people also experience recurrent sinusitis, where they experience a sinus infection at least 3 times a year.

Learn more about sinus infections, including their symptoms, prevention, and outlook.

Symptom timeline

If you have acute sinusitis, you may notice symptoms start to improve within a few days to weeks. In some cases, acute sinusitis caused by viruses improves within 3 to 5 days Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source .

However, with some sinus infections, symptoms improve and then worsen again. This is typically a sign of acute sinusitis due to a bacterial infection.

Factors that affect sinus infection duration

It isn’t possible to predict how long each sinus infection will last or whether it will be chronic. Experts are unsure what causes sinusitis to become chronic.

However, chronic, severe, or spreading infections may be more likely if:

Not receiving treatment for a severe infection may also mean recovery takes longer.

Signs a sinus infection is improving

A sinus infection may be improving if your symptoms start to ease or feel milder.

You may experience improvements such as:

  • a less runny or congested nose
  • less postnasal drip, whereby mucus drips down the throat from the nasal passage
  • nasal discharge becoming clearer
  • relieved pressure or tenderness in the face
  • milder or fewer headaches
  • reduced cough
  • lower body temperature after a fever
  • more energy

When to contact a doctor

Contact a doctor if:

  • you have severe or concerning symptoms, such as severe facial pain or headache
  • your symptoms improve and then worsen again
  • your symptoms last over 10 days without getting better
  • you have a fever for more than 3 to 4 days
  • you have had multiple sinus infections in the last year

Doctors will ask about your symptoms and medical history to diagnose and manage a sinus infection. They may also refer you to an allergist or ear, nose, and throat doctor.

In some cases, doctors may recommend a CT scan of your sinuses or a biopsy to check for a severe fungal infection. A sinus biopsy involves removing a small amount of sinus tissue while using an anesthetic.

Learn more about when to contact a doctor for a sinus infection.

Sinus infection treatment

Treatment for a sinus infection can depend on its type and severity.

Mild viral infections do not need antibiotics, which will not work for non-bacterial infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source , most sinus infections typically get better on their own without antibiotics.

While you wait to recover, self-care and over-the-counter (OTC) products may help relieve your symptoms, such as:

  • a warm compress over the nose and forehead
  • OTC products, such as:
    • nasal decongestants, taken for no more than 3 days
    • nasal irrigations or saline sprays
    • cough syrups
    • pain relief medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Acephen, Tylenol)

Talk with a doctor or a pharmacist for OTC product recommendations.

Antibiotics for sinus infections

Some bacterial sinus infections do require antibiotics.

Depending on the type of antibiotic, you may need to take it for 3 to 28 days. Make sure to take antibiotics exactly as prescribed and finish the full course — even if you start to feel better beforehand.

Do not stop using an antibiotic before talking with a doctor first. Misusing antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance.

To help avoid antibiotic overuse and resistance, doctors may recommend:

  • Watchful waiting: This is when you and a healthcare professional monitor your condition for another 2 to 3 days to check whether you need antibiotics, or see if you start to improve.
  • Delayed prescribing: With delayed prescribing, a doctor will prescribe you an antibiotic, but recommend you wait 2 to 3 days to collect it. This gives you a chance to recover on your own without needing the antibiotics.

Q: What happens if you let a sinus infection go untreated?

Anonymous

A: Some sinus infections — especially viral ones — resolve on their own with time.

Without treatment, other cases can lead to serious complications in the structures around the sinuses, such as eye socket or central nervous system infections.

Nicole Aaronson, MD, MBA, CPE, FACS, FAAP Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Summary

Most sinus infections go away on their own within 4 weeks. However, some cases last 12 weeks or longer.

While waiting to recover, you can relieve mild sinus infections with over-the-counter care such as nasal sprays and pain medications. Doctors may also prescribe antibiotics to help treat bacterial sinus infections.

Talk with a doctor if you have sinus infection symptoms for longer than 10 days. Also contact a doctor if you have any severe or concerning symptoms.

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Medical Reviewer: Nicole Leigh Aaronson, MD, MBA, CPE, FACS, FAAP
Last Review Date: 2024 Jul 8
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