Acute Sinusitis

Front view of sinuses showing red, swollen lining and mucus.

Acute sinusitis is irritation and swelling of the sinuses. It is usually caused by a viral infection after a common cold. Your doctor can help you find relief.

What is acute sinusitis?

Sinuses are air-filled spaces in the skull behind the face. They are kept moist and clean by a lining of mucosa. Things such as pollen, smoke, and chemical fumes can irritate the mucosa. It can then swell up. As a response to irritation, the mucosa makes more mucus and other fluids. Tiny hairlike cilia cover the mucosa. Cilia help carry mucus toward the opening of the sinus. Too much mucus may cause the cilia to stop working. This blocks the sinus opening. A buildup of fluid in the sinuses then causes pain and pressure. It can also encourage bacteria to grow in the sinuses.

Common symptoms of acute sinusitis

You may have:

  • Facial soreness pain

  • Headache

  • Fever

  • Fluid draining in the back of the throat (postnasal drip)

  • Congestion

  • Drainage that is thick and colored, instead of clear

  • Cough

Diagnosing acute sinusitis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. He or she will look at your ear, nose, and throat. You usually won't need to have X-rays taken.  

The doctor may take a sample of mucus to check for bacteria. If you have sinusitis that keeps coming back, you may need imaging tests such as X-rays or CAT scans. This will help your doctor check for a structural problem that may be causing the infection.

Treating acute sinusitis

Treatment is aimed at unblocking the sinus opening and helping the cilia work again. You may need to take antihistamine and decongestant medicine. These can reduce inflammation and decrease the amount of fluid your sinuses make. If you have a bacterial infection, you will need to take antibiotic medicine for 10 to 14 days. Take this medicine until it is gone, even if you feel better.