Ear, Nose & Throat

How Is a Sinus Infection Diagnosed?

written by Becki Andrus

When you are starting to feel pressure and pain behind the nose and around the eyes, it could be a sign that a sinus infection is developing. But these symptoms can be confused with other health conditions, which is why it’s best to get an official diagnosis before you begin any treatments.

Sinus infections are pretty common and can affect people of all ages. When the symptoms occur, then it’s best to talk to a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Part of the diagnostic process involves identifying the underlying cause of the sinus infection to ensure optimal results from the treatments.

Common Cold vs. Sinus Infections

Everyone is familiar with the common symptoms that happen when you have a head cold: runny nose, sneezing, fatigue, congestion, postnasal drip, sore throat, and more.

Usually, these viral infections clear up in about a week, and you start feeling good again.

But these symptoms are also similar to the early stages of a sinus infection. So if you notice that the symptoms aren’t going away in 7 – 10 days, or the symptoms are coming back frequently, then it’s time to talk to an ENT about sinus infections.

What Is a Sinus Infection?

When a sinus infection occurs, it happens because of inflammation within the sinuses. This problem can occur because of a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection that affects the nose and sinus area membranes.

There are two types of sinus infections:

  • Acute Sinus Infection: This type of sinus infection starts suddenly and lasts for a short time, usually no more than a few weeks.
  • Chronic Sinus Infections: When you experience a sinus infection for 12 weeks or more, or the symptoms continue to come back, then you might be dealing with a chronic condition. This type of sinus infection is often known as sinusitis.

Should You Call an ENT about a Sinus Infection?

How do you know when it’s time to call a doctor about a sinus infection? Here are a few signs that you need a consultation, diagnosis, and treatment:

  • Symptoms are not improving after being sick for 10 days
  • Congestion is making it hard to breathe through the nose
  • Tenderness around the eyes and nose
  • You start to feel better, then the symptoms worsen
  • Pressure and congestion in the nose are getting worse
  • Yellow or green discharge coming from the nose
  • You are feeling pain in the sinus areas, especially when leaning over
  • Over-the-counter sinus infection treatments aren’t working to provide you relief

Sometimes, sinus infections can cause similar symptoms as a toothache. The back molars on the upper jaw are close to the sinuses, so it’s common for people to have tooth pain when a sinus infection is present.

If you have the above symptoms, then contact an ENT for a regular examination and diagnosis. Other symptoms require emergency treatment, such as:

  • Severe headache
  • Fever over 102 F
  • Stiff neck
  • Vision problems
  • Swelling in the facial area
  • Severe sinus pain

Testing and Diagnosing a Sinus Infection

During the first part of your appointment, the ENT specialist will ask you to fill out paperwork and request information about your health history. Share important details about your symptoms, including the length of time you’ve had symptoms and whether they are getting worse.

Next, the doctor will look in your nose using an otoscope. If a sinus infection is present, you likely have signs of congestion, swelling, and irritation.

This examination is usually enough for the doctor to determine that you have an infection for common sinus infections.

When chronic sinus problems are being diagnosed, then your doctor might suggest other outpatient testing procedures. For example, you might need a nasal endoscopy, a flexible device with a small camera inserted through the nose.

Additional testing methods might include a CT scan or swabbing to test for the presence of bacteria or fungi.

Is Digital Imaging Necessary for Sinus Infection Diagnosis?

In most cases, the examination and conversation with a doctor are sufficient to diagnose the infection and put together a treatment plan. For cases of acute sinus infection, it usually isn’t necessary to have digital imaging.

But if the infections are recurring, the ENT will want to see what is happening with the structure within your sinuses. In this situation, you will likely need to have a digital scan, such as sinus x-rays or computerized tomography (CT scan).

Primary care physicians can provide basic diagnostics and treatments for sinus infections. Patients are usually referred to an ENT for help with chronic or recurring sinus infections. If you need fluid samples for a lab culture, an endoscopy, or digital imaging, then our team of ENT specialists can offer these services in our office.

Treating Sinus Infections

Sinus infection testing is an essential first step, so the doctor knows what type of sinus infection you are experiencing. For example, viral sinus infections usually go away on their own within about 10 days. Viral infections won’t respond to antibiotic treatments, so the doctor won’t prescribe this medication.

It can be harmful to take antibiotics unnecessarily, which is why doctors don’t write these prescriptions for every patient. Instead, you might need to wait to see if the symptoms improve with time, then the healthcare provider can determine the ideal treatment for your infection.

Obtaining a diagnosis is essential so you can get a personalized treatment plan to speed up your recovery.

Sinus infection treatment involves options to provide immediate relief, such as medications to reduce the pain and decrease sinus congestion. Additionally, the doctor will want to treat the underlying cause of the infection.

Suppose the infection is happening because of bacterial overgrowth. In that case, antibiotics can be helpful to clear up the infection and prevent the bacteria from spreading to other parts of the face and body.

Or, if you get chronic sinus infections relating to seasonal allergies, then reducing the allergy symptoms can decrease your risk of a sinus infection in the future.

Talk to an ENT about Recurring Sinus Infections

You don’t need to suffer from chronic sinus problems. If you have these issues, it might be time to schedule a consultation with an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

At Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat, we serve patients in the Collin County and Dallas areas. You are invited to book an appointment at one of our nearby offices in either Frisco or Plano, TX. Fill out our online form, or call us to schedule a time to meet with an ENT for diagnosis and treatment: (972) 596-4005.

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