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Sinus infections: causes, symptoms, and treatment

A sinus infection, also known as sinusitis, is a condition characterized by inflammation and swelling of the sinus passages in the skull. Sinuses are air-filled cavities located behind the forehead, cheeks, nose, and eyes. When these cavities become inflamed due to infection, allergies, or other factors, they can become blocked with mucus, leading to discomfort and a range of symptoms.

Are sinus infections contagious?

Sinus infections are not typically contagious. However, the underlying causes of sinus infections, such as viral or bacterial infections, can be contagious. For example, if a sinus infection is caused by a viral cold or flu, the virus responsible for the infection can be contagious and spread from person to person through respiratory droplets, direct contact, or contaminated surfaces.

Bacterial sinus infections can also be triggered by bacteria that are contagious. Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae are examples of bacteria that can cause sinus infections and are sometimes spread through close contact.

What are the symptoms of a sinus infection?

  • Nasal congestion

  • Facial pain or pressure

  • Headache

  • Postnasal drip

  • Reduced sense of smell

  • Cough

  • Fatigue

  • Bad breath

  • Fever

  • Tooth Pain

  • Ear pressure

  • Eye pain


If you suspect you have a sinus infection or are experiencing symptoms, schedule an appointment with a Baylor St. Luke's Medical Group primary care provider for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

What are the causes of a sinus infection?

  • Viral infections: Common cold viruses can lead to sinusitis by causing inflammation and swelling of the sinus passages.

  • Bacterial infections: Bacterial growth in the sinuses, often secondary to a viral infection, can result in a bacterial sinus infection.

  • Allergies: Allergic reactions to pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or other allergens can trigger sinus inflammation and infection.

  • Nasal polyps: Abnormal growths in the nasal passages can block sinus drainage and contribute to sinusitis.

  • Deviated septum: A crooked or misaligned nasal septum can impede proper sinus drainage and increase the risk of infection.

  • Environmental irritants: Exposure to pollutants, smoke, chemicals, or other irritants can inflame the sinus lining.

  • Weak immune system: Immune system deficiencies or conditions that weaken the immune response can make individuals more susceptible to infections.

  • Dental infections: Infections in the teeth or gums can spread to the nearby sinuses.

  • Swimming or diving: Water entering the sinuses during activities like swimming or diving can introduce bacteria and lead to infection (referred to as "swimmer's sinusitis").

  • Air travel: Changes in air pressure during flights can affect sinus drainage and contribute to sinusitis.

  • Respiratory conditions: Conditions like asthma, cystic fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can increase the risk of sinus infections.

  • Foreign objects: Objects lodged in the nasal passages can obstruct drainage and lead to infection.


Sinus infection treatment options

  • Rest and hydration: Getting plenty of rest and staying well-hydrated can help support your immune system and aid in recovery.

  • Decongestants: Over-the-counter or prescription decongestant medications can help reduce nasal congestion and improve breathing.

  • Saline nasal irrigation: Rinsing the nasal passages with a saline solution can help clear mucus and relieve congestion.

  • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help alleviate facial pain, headaches, and fever.

  • Nasal corticosteroids: Prescription or over-the-counter nasal corticosteroid sprays can reduce inflammation in the nasal passages.

  • Antibiotics: If a bacterial infection is present, a healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics to target the bacteria causing the infection.

  • Antihistamines: These can be helpful if allergies are contributing to the sinusitis.

  • Steam inhalation: Inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water or using a humidifier can help moisten and clear the nasal passages.

  • Warm compresses: Applying warm compresses to the face can help soothe pain and pressure.

  • Elevating the head: Sleeping with your head elevated can facilitate sinus drainage and reduce congestion.

  • Surgery: In cases of chronic or severe sinusitis, surgery may be considered to improve sinus drainage or correct structural issues.


How do you prevent a sinus infection?

  • Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands frequently to reduce the risk of viral and bacterial infections that can lead to sinusitis.

  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids to keep nasal passages moist and help prevent congestion.

  • Use a humidifier: Using a humidifier at home can add moisture to the air, preventing dry nasal passages that are more susceptible to infection.

  • Avoid allergens: Identify and minimize exposure to allergens that can trigger sinus inflammation. Keep your living environment clean and free from dust, pet dander, and pollen.

  • Manage allergies: If you have allergies, follow your doctor's recommendations for managing them, whether through medications, allergen avoidance, or other treatments.

  • Quit smoking: If you smoke, consider quitting, as smoking can irritate the sinus passages and impair their natural defense mechanisms.

  • Practice nasal irrigation: Regularly rinsing your nasal passages with a saline solution can help clear mucus, irritants, and bacteria.

  • Stay up-to-date on vaccinations: Keeping current with flu and pneumonia vaccinations can help prevent infections that can contribute to sinusitis.

  • Treat respiratory infections promptly: If you develop a cold or other respiratory infection, take measures to manage it promptly, as these infections can lead to sinusitis.

  • Avoid overuse of nasal decongestant sprays: Overusing decongestant nasal sprays can lead to a rebound effect and worsen congestion. Use them only as directed and for short periods.

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