What is a Sinus Infection and How to Treat It

Your sinuses are a system of air-filled chambers beneath the surface around your nose. When they become infected – a condition also known as sinusitis – inflammation can cause bothersome, potentially severe symptoms, such as congestion, pain and pressure in the head and face, cough or dry throat, fever and fatigue. Proper treatment for sinus infections depends on the type and your symptoms.

Sinus infections can be caused by a viruses, bacteria, fungi, allergens or environmental irritants. Viral sinusitis symptoms cause at least 90 percent of acute – or quick onset – sinus infections and typically last a week to 10 days. Bacterial infections typically cause more severe symptoms, such as a fever of 102 or higher, facial pain for at least a few days and green, thick nasal discharge. Sinusitis can also be chronic. In these cases, symptoms might be milder, less sudden and last for 12 weeks or longer. They may also occur numerous times throughout the year. Fungal sinus infections usually occur in people who have conditions that weaken immune function, such as leukemia, HIV/AIDS and diabetes.

Depending on the type of sinus infection you have, antibiotics, antihistamines or decongestants can help. If you have bacterial sinusitis, your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics, which you would take for a few days or weeks, depending on the type of antibiotic and the severity of your symptoms. Over-the-counter and prescription antihistamines help by blocking inflammation associated with or worsened by allergies. Decongestants and expectorants help to reduce the mucus in your sinuses. Keep in mind that medications can cause side effects and interact with other drugs. Follow package instructions and seek your doctor's guidance, as needed.

Although less common, very serious sinus infections might require surgery or other immediate emergency care. If your infection spread into your brain, bones or other body areas, you could need high-dose antibiotics provided intravenously, or possibly surgery. Severe fungal sinusitis requires aggressive surgery, high-dose anti-fungal chemotherapy and drug therapy. Addressing symptoms if they progress and seeking any needed medical care early on can help prevent worsening of sinus infections.

In addition to any needed medical treatment, you can take some of the following steps to help manage symptoms and lower your odds of recurring infections.

  • Keep your sinuses moist, especially during cold, dry months, by using a humidifier or vaporizer or carefully inhaling steam from boiling water.
  • Flush your nostrils with a neti pot or syringe system to minimize mucus.
  • Nasal sprays, such as Mucinex® Sinus-Max® Full Force® Nasal Spray, can help ease congestion and provide relief.
  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids to enhance healing and keep moisture in your nasal passages.
  • For severe sinus congestion relief, turn to Maximum Strength* Mucinex® Sinus-Max® Severe Congestion Relief. It not only combines three maximum-strength medications, but can help relieve your headache and sinus congestion symptoms.