Symptoms of Sinus Infection

By Katharine Paljug @YourCareE
June 27, 2023
Symptoms of a Sinus Infection

Do you have a cold or sinus infection? Learn the symptoms of sinus infection, whether you need antibiotics, and which home remedies are effective.

Your sinuses are air-filled passages behind your nose, cheeks, eyebrows, and forehead. They contain mucus that traps pathogens and particles, such as bacteria or dust. The tiny hairs in your nasal passages sweep the mucus towards your throat, where it slides down to your stomach, and your body eventually expels it.

When you develop a sinus infection, however, your sinuses become inflamed. Your nasal passages swell and become blocked, causing mucus to build up.

Bacteria, viruses, or mold can cause sinus infections. Some people with allergies or asthma also develop chronic sinus inflammation, which is not an infection.

Sinus infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), affect around 30 million adults every year in the United States alone.

To keep yourself healthy, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of sinus infection so you know when to visit your doctor and seek treatment.


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Symptoms of sinus infection

Common symptoms of sinus infection include:

  • Postnasal drip
  • Greenish nasal discharge
  • Congested or stuffy nose
  • Tenderness in your cheeks or under eyes
  • Frontal headache
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Pain in your teeth or jaw
  • Bad breath

Those symptoms often resemble those of other upper respiratory tract infections, so it is important to visit a doctor for a correct diagnosis.

Antibiotics for sinus infections

Sinus infections and the common cold are often confused with each other because many of the symptoms are similar. A cold is a virus, however, while bacteria cause a sinus infection. Antibiotics can treat sinus infections but not a cold.

In the United States, doctors often prescribe antibiotics for sinus infections, but the CDC cautions that most patients with sinus infections do not need antibiotics to get better.

If a virus is causing your sinus infection, antibiotics will not help, and over-prescribing antibiotics may contribute to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Research indicates that only people with severe sinus infections that don’t show signs of improving should take antibiotics.

Are sinus infections contagious?

Whether a sinus infection is contagious depends on what causes it.

A sinus infection caused by bacteria is not often contagious. The same viruses that cause the common cold or other respiratory illnesses can cause infections, however. In such cases, a sinus infection is likely to be contagious in the same ways a cold is.

To protect yourself against infections:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Disinfect commonly used objects like keyboards and doorknobs
  • Don’t share food or drinks

How to relieve sinus pressure

The mucus buildup and inflammation that comes with a sinus infection can cause facial pain. Knowing how to relieve sinus pressure will remove some of this discomfort. Options include:

  • Put a warm compress across your nose and forehead.
  • Use a decongestant, such as a saline nose spray, to break up mucus.
  • Take a steamy shower or sit in front of a warm humidifier.
  • Use an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to reduce swelling.

If the pain is severe, you may need prescription treatments, such as steroids, to relieve sinus pressure. Talk to your doctor about available methods of relief.

Home remedies for sinus infections

You can use many home remedies for sinus infections to help relieve symptoms and speed your recovery.

Nasal irrigation with a sinus rinse bottle or neti pot can flush out your sinuses and remove mucus blocks that cause inflammation. For nasal irrigation, the CDC recommends boiling tap water to sterilize it (being sure to allow it time to cool before use) or purchasing a saline solution from a drugstore. That helps you avoid exposure to parasites or other pathogens.

Bromelain supplements are another home remedy for sinus infections. Bromelain is an enzyme extracted from pineapple. Multiple studies show that it helps relieve symptoms of breathing difficulties and inflammation in patients with sinusitis.

Essential oils can also provide some relief. Researchers found that a nasal spray made of aromatic essential oils, including eucalyptus and rosemary oils, can help relieve symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection. Peppermint, tea tree, and thyme essential oils are effective antimicrobial agents, particularly against oral pathogens.

Lavender essential oil can relieve inflammation and headaches caused by sinus infections. You can either dab small amounts of lavender oil around your sinuses and temples or add a few drops to a humidifier.  

If you apply essential oils topically, be sure to dilute them in a carrier oil to avoid skin irritation. When using any home remedies for sinus infections, always consult with your doctor first, to avoid complications or interactions with other medication you may be taking.


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June 27, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN