Is it 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 this 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.
Sinus infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or mold. Some people with allergies or asthma also develop chronic sinus inflammation, but this is not caused by 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. About one in 10 people will develop sinusitis every year.
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
- Pain in teeth or jaw
- Bad breath
These 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. However, unlike a cold, a sinus infection can be caused by bacteria. These infections can be treated with antibiotics.
In the United States, antibiotics for sinus infections are prescribed more than 80 percent of the time. However, the CDC cautions that most patients with sinus infections do not need antibiotics in order to get better.
If your sinus infection is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help, and over-prescribing antibiotics may contribute to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Research indicates that antibiotics should be prescribed only for severe sinus infections that don’t show signs of improving on their own.
Are sinus infections contagious?
Whether or not a sinus infection is contagious depends on what causes it.
A sinus infection caused by bacteria is not often contagious. However, sinus infections can be caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold or other respiratory illnesses. In these cases, a sinus infection is likely to be contagious in the same ways a cold is.
You can protect yourself against infections by washing your hands frequently, disinfecting commonly used objects like keyboards and doorknobs, and not sharing 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. There are several ways to do this.
- 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 main need prescription treatments such as steroids to relieve sinus pressure. In these cases, talk to your doctor about the available methods of relief.
Home remedies for sinus infections
There are many home remedies for sinus infections that you can use 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 are causing inflammation. For nasal irrigation, the CDC recommends sterilizing tap water by boiling it (being sure to allow it time to cool before use) or purchasing a saline solution from a drugstore. This 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, and multiple studies have found 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, helped relieve symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection. Peppermint, tea tree, and thyme essential oils are all effective antimicrobial agents, particularly against oral pathogens. And lavender essential oil has been shown to 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.
March 26, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN