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What is Sinusitis?

The sinuses are hollow areas in the skull that are arranged in pairs. Sinusitis occurs when the tissue lining the sinuses in the skull around the nose (the paranasal sinuses) becomes inflamed and infected. Acute sinusitis usually lasts about 1-4 weeks, while chronic sinusitis is diagnosed when symptoms last three or more months. The third form, recurrent acute sinusitis, occurs more than three times a year.

Paranasal Sinuses
Paranasal Sinuses
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Although sinusitis may begin during or after a viral infection, the condition itself is usually due to a bacterial infection or allergic conditions.

Acute infectious sinusitis may be caused by any number of bacteria, including:

  • Hemophilus influenzae
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Moraxella catarrhalis
  • *Staphylococcus...

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop sinusitis with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing sinusitis. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for sinusitis include the following:


Smoking and being exposed to second-hand smoke increases your risk of developing sinusitis.

Certain Medical Conditions

The following medical conditions increase your chances of getting sinusitis:

  • A recent cold
  • Medication, such as prolonged use of decongestant sprays
  • Nasal obstruction due to:
  • Polyps
  • Deviated septum
  • Facial bone...

Symptoms of sinus infection are very similar to those of the common cold. However, when due to a cold virus, such symptoms typically improve after a few days. If you continue to have nasal symptoms 10-14 days after having a cold , then you may have developed a sinus infection.

Blockage of Sinuses
Blockage of Sinuses
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Symptoms of sinus infection may include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Nasal discharge that may be
  • Thick
  • Greenish
  • Yellowish
  • Headache (in acute sinusitis)
  • Ear pain
  • Toothache (dental pain)
  • Facial pain and pressure that increases when you lie down or lean over
  • Facial fullness or congestion
  • Nagging cough that may get worse when lying down
  • Fever
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Bad breath
  • Unpleasant taste in your mouth
  • Decreased sense of smell ...

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms. A physical examination may reveal tenderness when your doctor taps or presses over the area of your sinuses or on the teeth in your upper jaw. In many cases of acute sinusitis, your doctor can diagnose sinusitis based on your symptoms and the physical exam. However, in recurrent and chronic sinusitis, other tests may be performed.

These tests may include:


This simple procedure involves shining a bright light (as from a flashlight) over your cheek in a dark room. If no light illuminates certain areas of your face, then it’s likely that you have a sinus infection. This test, though, is not very reliable and is not commonly performed.

Nasal Culture

Your doctor might send a sample of your nasal discharge to a...

The following actions may help to reduce your risk of sinusitis:

Stop Smoking

Smoking interferes with the normal defenses in your respiratory tract that protect against infection. If you stop smoking , your respiratory tract will slowly heal itself. Ask your doctor about programs and nicotine replacement systems that can help you stop smoking.

Furthermore, exposure to both second-hand smoke and air pollution can make you more prone to sinusitis. Avoid both types of exposures to improve your respiratory health.

Avoid Infections

Although there is no evidence that you can avoid getting sinus infections, here are some basic steps that may help you avoid infections in general:

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Do not have close contact with people who are...

American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery


One Prince St.
Alexandria, VA 22314



Internet address:

Description of services provided:

This website has a lot of material (in both English and Spanish) on various head and neck conditions, including sinusitis. Also provided are short descriptions of recent head and neck topics in the news, with links to other websites for more extensive reporting on these topics. An online service called “Find an Otolaryngologist” helps you locate a head and neck surgeon in your community.

American Rhinologic Society


9 Sunset Terrace
Warwick, NY 10990




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