Eleven common symptoms of a sinus infection

Eleven common symptoms of a sinus infection

A sinus infection, also called sinusitis, is a common and painful condition that causes the nasal cavity to exert stuffy, painful pressure.

Sinusitis affects about 31 million people a year in America. Many sinusitis cases are caused by a virus, and may go away on their own. Viral sinusitis is contagious so take steps to prevent it from being passed on to others.

Bacteria may also be responsible for causing sinusitis, and in rare cases, a fungus.

Telling sinusitis apart from a cold or allergy can be challenging, so knowing the symptoms of a sinus infection can help finding the best treatment.

In this post, we look at sinusitis signs and remedies, and clarify how to tell the difference between sinus infection and cold.

Eleven symptoms of a sinus infection

Fatigue and bad breath characterize sinusitis.
Fatigue and bad breath characterize sinusitis.

The characteristic symptoms of a sinus infection include:

1. Sinus pain and pressure

Fluid trapped in the sinuses can fill the cavities of the sinus and cause intense pain and pressure. The sinuses are potentially sensitive to the touch. A person may have an urge to sneeze but can not.

The discomfort may be in the ears, around the eyes and nose, or in the forehead because the sinuses are located in those places. Bending over can exacerbate pain.

The pressure and the discomfort are often severe enough to interfere with sleep.

Sinusitis can lead to swelling of the tissue in the nose too.

2. A headache

Sinusitis pressure and pain can cause headaches at the front of the head. Some may feel the pain is radiating elsewhere, causing more severe symptoms or even pain in the neck.

3. Postnasal drip

Postnasal drip is a mucus which drips down from the nose to the back of the throat. It may cause feelings of hoarseness and congestion, or in the throat or mouth, a sense of pressure.

4. Congestion

A person with a sinus infection may have a viral infection in their sinuses, or, less commonly, a bacterial or fungal infection. This usually occurs where fluid is trapped in the sinuses where viruses , bacteria, or fungus may grow. A person is likely to feel congested because of the buildup of fluid and the inflammation.

5. Coughing

Infection with the sinus can cause the mucus and fluid to back up in the throat, which can cause itching or feeling full. Some people cough repeatedly in trying to clear their throats, but others experience uncontrollable coughing.

6. Fever

A fever is a sign of an infection the body is fighting off. Some people with a sinus infection develop fever. Other fever-related symptoms include chills, exhaustion and muscular aches.

7. Brightly colored mucus

In the mucus, viruses , bacteria, or fungus can change colour. People with sinus infections frequently find that they cough up a green or yellow phlegm, or that a bright color is the mucus they blow out of their nose.

Sinusitis produces a lot of mucus development, and no matter how much they blow their nose a person can find they are unable to clear the sinuses.

8. Fatigue

Fighting a sinus infection requires the body’s energy, so feeling tired is common. Many people feel drained from being unable to breathe quickly or being in pain.

9. Bad breath

The mucus associated with a sinus infection may have a bad smell, which can cause smelly breath in the mouth or a bad taste.

10. Tooth pain

Intense pressure of the sinus can cause gum pain, which can lead to toothaches, gum pain or general mouth pain.

11. Chronic sinus pain

Some infections in the sinus can get chronic. Anyone who has sinus pain and pressure that lasts several weeks and is unrelated to an allergy or infection can experience chronic sinusitis.

Is it a sinus infection or cold?

Swelling and tenderness of the face are common symptoms of sinusitis, but not a cold.
Swelling and tenderness of the face are common symptoms of sinusitis, but not a cold.

The distinction between a sinus infection and a cold can be difficult to say because the symptoms can be somewhat similar. Sinus infections also develop following cold.

Sinusitis continues to last past a cold. Cold symptoms begin to get gradually worse, peak at 3–5 days, and slowly improve. Sinus infections can last for 10 days or longer.

Sinusitis is more likely to cause other symptoms than cold, including:

  • swelling of the tissue in the nose
  • bad breath
  • green discharge from the nose
  • swollen or tender face

Unlike a cold, sinusitis can get chronic, meaning it will last longer than 3 months. Chronic sinusitis causes the sinuses to swell and irritate, and usually develops after an acute sinusitis has occurred. The symptoms often go away, and then return again. Continuing symptoms of the sinus can suggest persistent sinusitis — even if they get better and then come back afterwards.

Treating a sinus infection

Often sinus infections go away alone without medical treatment. However, there are certain things a person can do at home to alleviate the embarrassing symptoms.

To treat sinusitis symptoms with home remedies, try:

  • Applying a warm compress to the sinuses, which eases pain and pressure by loosening up the fluid in the sinuses.
  • Using a nasal wash or sinus rinse, such as a saline spray or neti pot, which are available from drug stores.
  • Taking antihistamine tablets to reduce inflammation in the sinuses; there is a variety of antihistamines available in supermarkets.
  • Using a nasal decongestant spray to help clear the sinuses and relieve pressure. These sprays are also available to buy from drug stores.

Avoid long-term use of decongestants without first talking to a doctor, because they can make congestion worse if they are used for too long.

When to see a doctor

Discuss intense sinus pain with a doctor.
Discuss intense sinus pain with a doctor.

A person may wish to talk to their doctor if:

  • symptoms last longer than 7 to 10 days
  • a child has a fever for more than a day or two
  • the pain is very intense
  • a person with a suspected sinus infection has a weakened immune system due to a medical condition, drugs that suppress the immune system, or organ failure

Treatment depends on the cause. If the infection was caused by bacteria and the symptoms are severe or last longer than a week, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics aren’t effective for chronic sinusitis or a virus-caused sinus infection.

A health care provider may also prescribe steroids to relieve pain and pressure. If the infection is bacterial or viral, both can help, and can help with recurrent sinus infections.

A doctor may recommend surgery to treat severe , chronic sinusitis if other therapies are not effective. Surgeons can move the bones to open the sinuses, or fix bones around the sinuses.

Some people also may have nasal polyps that cause frequent sinus infections, and these can be easily removed by a surgeon. Most chronic sinusitis surgeries are outpatient procedures, meaning a person may go home on the same day as the surgery.


The outlook is good for most Sinusitis cases. Infections with the sinus often clear up within a week or two on their own. The infection can be bacterial when they don’t, and antibiotics can help.

Though rare, infections with the fungal sinus can be serious and difficult to treat.

Many people with sinusitis recover well, with proper medical treatment. However, if the infection does not get better after 3 months, a doctor may refer you to an ear, nose , and throat specialist who can diagnose and treat the chronic sinusitis underlying cause.