Sinus & Allergy

How Can You Tell if You Have a Sinus Infection?

written by Becki Andrus
How Can You Tell If You Have a Sinus Infection?

When an infection is developing in your sinuses, there are rarely visible signs on your face. The bacteria are breeding below the surface, and the pressure is mounting, creating the conditions that cause inflammation and pain.

If you are prone to sinus infections, then you probably recognize the early signs of a developing infection. People who don’t get sinus infections regularly might not know how to tell the difference between common congestion and the development of a serious infection.

How Can You Tell if You Have a Sinus Infection?

When your sinuses are congested, and you have other cold-like symptoms, then the timeframe can be a clue to help you determine whether a sinus infection is starting.

With a cold virus, the symptoms will usually go away within 7 to 10 days. Sometimes the stuffy nose and congestion create the perfect environment for a secondary infection: a bacterial sinus infection.

If you notice that the symptoms are hanging on longer than a week, and these congestion symptoms are getting worse, then it might be time to talk to a doctor about a sinus infection treatment.

Sinus infections can occur because of viruses, allergies, bacteria, and fungus.

Even though the symptoms are similar to that of a head cold, there are a few distinguishing signs that you have a sinus infection:

  • A sensation of pressure behind the cheeks and eyes
  • Your stuffy, runny nose lasts longer than a week
  • Headache that gets worse with time
  • Fever
  • Bad breath
  • Mucus in the nose is green or yellow
  • Nose drainage is thick
  • Reduced sense of smell

The intensity of the symptoms is often a key indicator that you are dealing with a sinus infection and not a basic cold. If you notice that these symptoms are getting worse, then it’s smart to talk to an ENT about treatment options.

How Long Does a Sinus Infection Last?

Most acute sinus infections last for about 7 – 10 days, but chronic sinus infections can last for weeks or months. When a sinus infection lasts for 12 weeks or more, then it is considered a chronic condition. Here is an overview of classifications of the types of sinus infections and how long they last:

  • Acute sinus infections usually start with symptoms similar to a cold, quickly developing into more severe symptoms such as facial pain and pressure. When the condition is acute, it starts suddenly and goes away within about a week or two.
  • Subacute sinus infections last a little longer. You might experience these symptoms for up to 12 weeks.
  • Chronic sinusitis is the diagnosis when your sinus infection symptoms last longer than 12 weeks.
  • Recurrent acute sinusitis is a reference to sinus infections that recur at least four times a year. 

The duration of a sinus infection also depends on your treatment plan. If you are proactive with sinus irrigation, antibiotics, decongestants, and other treatments recommended by your ENT, then it will speed up your healing time. But some patients have chronic sinus infections that don’t respond to these treatments. So, the doctor might recommend more in-depth procedures, such as balloon rhinoplasty or surgery.

What Happens If You Let a Sinus Infection Go Untreated?

When you have inflammation and congestion in the sinuses, immediate treatment can be an effective way to clear up the symptoms and return you to full health. If you skip treatment and wait for the symptoms to go away, then you will continue experiencing pain and pressure until the infection is gone.

In rare cases, untreated sinus infections can lead to serious complications, such as an infection in the bone or a brain abscess. Untreated infections can also move into the eyes, potentially resulting in permanent vision loss.

Even though these complications are rare, it is possible that an untreated sinus infection can lead to serious health consequences. The best solution is to talk to a doctor if you are experiencing symptoms that don’t go away. An ENT can provide personalized recommendations to clear the infection and restore your health.

How Do You Cure a Sinus Infection?

The treatment for a small sinus infection often includes basic treatment techniques, such as the use of decongestants and saline nasal rinses. If the sinus infection is moderate or severe, then your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic.

There are other at-home remedies that can speed up the healing process:

  • Warm, damp washcloth compresses over the sinuses
  • Saline rinses and drops
  • Over-the-counter decongestant medications
  • Steam from a hot shower or vaporizer
  • Staying hydrated with water, hot tea, and broth

Severe sinus infections might require more in-depth treatment. For example, your ear, nose, and throat doctor might prescribe steroids to reduce the inflammation. Or, sometimes surgical procedures are needed to remove polyps and open the drainage areas.

Be careful to avoid jumping to antibiotics too quickly. It’s essential first to identify the underlying cause, then select an appropriate treatment. If the sinus infection is viral or fungal, then antibiotics won’t work – and improper use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance.

Treating the Underlying Cause of Your Sinus Infections

Not only do you need to treat the sinus infection, but the long-lasting cure is to address the underlying conditions that are causing the sinus infections.

These factors increase the risk of sinus infections, which is why your ENT will talk to you about correcting these related concerns:

  • Blocked drainage ducts
  • Inflammation and congestion in the nose from allergies
  • Structural issues that narrow the drainage pathways
  • Nasal polyps
  • Recurring illnesses, such as a cold or flu
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke

Personalized Treatment Plan from a Local ENT

You don’t have to suffer from sinus pain and pressure! If you think you might have a sinus infection, then it’s time to talk to an ENT about treatment options. We start with a thorough exam and diagnosis, then customize your treatment protocol to address the underlying cause of your symptoms.

You can visit with our experienced ENT team if you live near the Collin County or Dallas areas. At Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat, we are proud to offer two nearby offices in the community: Frisco or Plano, TX. Please book an appointment so we can evaluate your health concerns and provide professional recommendations to help you find relief.

You can use our digital form here on our website to book an appointment. Or, feel free to call if you have questions about our office or services: (972) 596-4005.

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