Sinus Infection: Summary and Overview
The sinuses are hollow spaces in the bones behind the face. A sinus infection or sinusitis refers to inflammation that occurs in these cavities. It can begin with a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection. The most common cause is a cold or flu. The condition is characterized by inflamed sinus and nasal passages that prevent you from breathing freely and yellow or green discharge.
Sinus infections can be acute or chronic. Acute sinusitis comes on suddenly, but should clear up with home remedies. If sinusitis lasts more than 12 weeks, or keeps coming back, it is called chronic sinusitis.
Sinus Infection: Causes
One of the most common causes of sinusitis is the common cold. However, sinusitis can be caused viral, bacterial, or fungal infection. Some pollutants and allergens can also trigger acute sinus infection.
If your sinuses are blocked, then the moist environment makes it easier for an infection to take hold. The infection causes inflammation, and the subsequent swelling presses on your cheeks, nose or forehead. Sinuses that become infected and can’t drain become pus filled, leading to symptoms such as thick, yellow or greenish discharge (snot) and other symptoms of infection.
Sinus Infection: Symptoms
Sinusitis has symptoms very different from a cold or the flu. The main symptoms are face pain or pressure, congestion, nasal discharge or post-nasal drip, and reduced ability to smell. Other symptoms can include:
- Drainage of a thick, yellow or greenish discharge from the nose or down the back of the throat
- Aching in your upper jaw and teeth
- Cough, which may be worse at night
- Ear pain
- Headache or sore throat
Sinus Infection: Diagnostic Tests
Diagnosis of sinus infection is usually based on a patient medical history, assessment of their symptoms and a physical exam. Distinguishing sinusitis from a common cold or flu is important.
In most cases, diagnosing a sinus infection requires a physical exam, but no tests. If your doctor needs more information, they may order imaging tests, such as a CT scan or an MRI to visualize your sinuses. As these are expensive and unavailable in most doctor’s offices, they are usually done if the infection is not responding to treatment.
Allergy testing. If your doctor suspects that the sinus infection has been triggered by allergies, he or she may recommend an allergy skin test. These are safe, quick and easy to perform and they can help pinpoint the allergen that’s responsible for your congestion.
Sinus Infection: Treatment Options
Viral Sinus Infection
If your sinus infection is caused by a viral infection, then antibiotics will not help. (They are effective against bacteria infections only). Your infection should clear up by itself, with rest and plenty of fluids. In the mean time, your doctor may recommend decongestants, e.g. a nasal spray, and/or anti-fever medication to ease the symptoms.
Bacterial Sinus Infection
The most common five bacteria causing bacterial sinusitis are: Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, Moraxella catarrhalis, Staphylococcus aureus, or Streptococcus pyogenes. Commonly prescribed medications for these five include: amoxicillin (Amoxil), amoxicillin-clavulanate (Augmentin), cefaclor (Ceclor), loracarbef (Lorabid), clarithromycin (Biaxin), azithromycin (Zithromax), sulfamethoxazole (Gantanol) (not prescribed individually from trimethoprim for sinusitis), or trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole combination (Bactrim, Septra).
Whatever medications, there are a number of home and natural remedies that will help your sinuses to clear and heal themselves.
- Drink fluids: Drink lots of water and juice. This will help dilute the mucous secretions. Try to avoid anything that contains caffeine as it is a diuretic. Don’t drink alcohol as it can worsen the inflammation of your sinuses. Hot beverages such as ginger tea, hot tea with honey and lemon.
- Chicken soup: It’s not just an old wives tale — chicken soup does, indeed, help congestion and aches. The hot steam from the soup helps clear the sinuses and studies have actually reported that ingredients in the soup may have anti-inflammatory effects.
- Facial Steams: Steam will help decongest your nasal cavities. Try standing in a steaming hot shower or place your head over a bowl of steaming hot water with a towel over your head. Breathe deeply to clear yourself out.
- Warm compress: Apply a warm compress to your face as it can help reduce the swelling and ease the pain.
- Nasal wash: These can be helpful to clean out the nasal cavities. You can purchase a nasal spray or make your own. The ingredients are one teaspoon of salt with two cups of warm water and a pinch of baking soda. Spray inside your nose several times per day.
- Neti pots: These are another way to clear out your nasal passages. You fill them with salt water (one teaspoon of salt with two cups of warm water) and slowly pour it into one nostril while leaning over a sink. The water should drain up and out through the other nostril. Also more recently, there has been a rash of amoeba infections from neti pots used with tap water, so this should preferably be done with sterile water.
- Rest: get plenty of rest so your body has time to heal itself.
Sinus Infection: Prevention
The best way of preventing a sinus infection is to try and prevent colds and flu. If you are feeling run down, try taking vitamin C, Zinc and Echinacea. Go to bed early and remove extra stressors on the body, such as alcohol and caffeine. Remember to wash your hands with soap, especially after taking public transport during flu season. Regular exercise at least three times per week and good nutrition are both essential to a healthy body and strong immune system. Make time to have a flu shot every year.
Sinus Infection: Conclusion
A sinus infection, or sinusitis, can be caused by a bacterial, fungal or viral infection. It causes the inflammation of your sinuses. The most common causes are colds and flu. There are a number of home and natural remedies to help your body heal itself