What is it?

Sinusitis or sinus infections are an inflammation of the mucosal lining of one or more of the sinuses. The sinuses are air cavities in the bones of the skull and face, which connect with the nose through small openings. There are four pairs of sinuses: the frontal sinuses sit above the eyes in the forehead, the maxillary sinuses lie behind the cheekbones, the sphenoid pair rests behind the nose, and the ethmoid sinuses are located between the eyes and the bridge of the nose.

What causes it?

Sinusitis can be caused by viral, bacterial or fungal infection, or allergy. Inflammation produces swelling of the mucosal lining; this blocks the small openings preventing normal drainage of the sinuses. Accumulation of mucus and secretions within the cavities turns them into an ideal breeding ground for further infection. Sinusitis frequently occurs with or after a cold.

What are its common symptoms?

Pain over the infected sinuses, thick opaque yellow-green nasal discharge, fever, fatigue, and headache that lasts all day. Depending on the sinus involved there may be swelling around the eyes, increased pain with bending, coughing and throat irritation due to a post-nasal drip, or dizziness. The throat pain may be severe with some swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck. Pain can also occur behind the eyes or around the teeth. Occasionally you may have tenderness along the nose, a decrease in the sense of smell or a change in taste, and have bad breath.

Is it contagious?

Sinusitis itself is not contagious, but other conditions that have caused the infection can be.

Is it serious?

Only if left untreated. Most sinus infections are viral and require only symptom treatment. If your symptoms last beyond seven days, most likely the source of infection is not viral and you should be seen by a provider. When the sinuses stay congested for long periods, small growths called polyps may develop on the membranes inside the nose. Nasal polyps may need to be removed.

How long will it last?

There are four different classifications of sinusitis. The majority of this handout discusses the acute sinusitis classification.

The time needed for the inflammation to clear up depends on what caused it. With proper treatment, the condition will usually begin to improve in 2-4 days. An allergic sinusitis or viral sinusitis may take longer. If you are told this is a viral infection and the symptoms do not improve after seven days of symptomatic treatment, you should be re-evaluated by a provider.

What can you do?

Salt water solution (saline solution) recipe

  1. 1 clean quart jar. Fill with distilled water.
  2. Add 1 to 1½ heaping teaspoons of pickling/canning salt (not table salt).
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of baking soda (pure bicarbonate).
  4. Mix and store at room temperature.

What can your health care provider do?

Sinusitis is usually treated with medicines to relieve the symptoms. One or more of the following may be recommended:


Follow up with your health care provider, as recommended. Some sinus infections may need more than one course of treatment - your provider may discuss this with you.


Notify your health care provider if you have any of the following symptoms:


Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement (ICSI). (2004). Acute sinusitis in adults. Bloomington, MN. Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. Retrieved on April 2, 2005
Kantz, B.R., Varon-Thomas, L. (2003) Sinus infection. eMedicine, from:
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (NIH). Sinus infection. Retrieved on July 23, 2008.