Ear, Nose & Throat

Acute Sinusitis Symptoms, Treatments, and Causes

written by Becki Andrus
Acute Sinusitis Symptoms, Treatments, and Causes

It happens to everyone at some point: sinus congestion gets worse, then you start to notice pain and pressure in the forehead and behind your eyes.

These symptoms could be an indication that you are suffering from acute sinusitis. Even though the infection might go away on its own within a few days, you are desperate to find relief.

Acute Sinusitis: What is It?

It is known as acute sinusitis when the sinus areas become swollen and inflamed. These tissues become so irritated that they block mucus from draining from the nose and sinuses, resulting in a backup of mucus in the delicate sinus areas.

Most of the time, acute sinusitis is a secondary infection that is caused by another condition. For example, you might come down with a head cold or have severe allergies. Then sinusitis develops due to the increase in mucus production and irritation in the mucus membranes.

If a virus causes acute sinusitis, then there isn’t much that can be done to stop the infection. Instead, the priority is to manage your symptoms, and the infection will usually clear up within a week to 10 days.

On the other hand, if acute sinusitis is a secondary infection caused by bacteria, you might need to use an antibiotic to clear the infection. The best solution is to meet with an ENT for a diagnosis, ensuring you follow the ideal treatment plan.

How Does Acute Sinusitis Differ from Chronic Sinusitis?

The symptoms of both acute sinusitis and chronic sinusitis are similar. The main difference is in the length of time that these symptoms last.

An acute condition is a short-term infection, and usually, the symptoms go away when you have healed from the infection. On the other hand, chronic sinusitis means that you have ongoing symptoms that continue for months – or even years.

In fact, most cases of sinusitis are considered acute if you’ve only had symptoms for a few days or weeks. However, if these symptoms continue for 12 weeks or longer, you might be diagnosed with chronic sinusitis.

What Are the Symptoms of Acute Sinusitis?

Understanding the symptoms of acute sinusitis will help you know when you need to seek medical treatment. What are the 4 main symptoms of sinusitis? Read the following list to see if your symptoms match this condition.

  1. Nasal Congestion: The most noticeable symptom is the development of congestion in the nasal passages. Your nose feels stuffy or completely blocked, and you can’t breathe through it. If you are having a hard time passing air through your nose, then it means that you are congested.
  2. Mucus from the Nose: You’ll notice thick mucus coming from the nose that is either yellow or greenish in color. It might come out of the nose, or you could have a postnasal drip (mucus draining down the back of the throat).
  3. Pain and Tenderness: The areas around your nose, eyes, and forehead are tender and painful. This pain continues and might intensify when you are blowing your nose. Additionally, the pain worsens when you bend over or put your head down.
  4. Other Symptoms of Acute Sinusitis: Everyone experiences unique symptoms. In addition to the 3 main symptoms, there are a variety of other symptoms that might also occur: sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, toothache, bad breath, reduced sense of smell or taste, or fatigue.

How Long Does Acute Sinusitis Last?

Most of the time, acute sinusitis will go away within a week to a week and a half. But it depends on the severity of the condition, as well as the at-home remedies and medical treatments that you are using.

Sometimes, the symptoms will continue if you don’t seek treatment. For example, a bacterial sinus infection can lead to serious complications, which is why it’s wise to talk to an ENT for diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.

How Do You Treat Acute Sinusitis?

Most of the time, acute sinusitis can be treated at home. Follow these steps.

  • Warm Washcloth: Place a damp, warm washcloth over the sinuses to open the passages, reduce congestion, and alleviate your symptoms.
  • Humidifier: Turn on a vaporizer or humidifier.
  • Nasal Sprays: Use a saline nasal spray to rinse away the mucus and keep your nasal passages open. Washing out the mucus can help to reduce the risk of a secondary bacterial infection.
  • OTC Medications: Certain over-the-counter medications can help alleviate symptoms, such as a nasal corticosteroid spray, antihistamines, or decongestants.
  • Pain Relievers: If you are in a lot of pain, try using ibuprofen or acetaminophen to reduce sinus pain.
  • Elevate the Head: Encourage your sinuses to drain by always keeping your head elevated. If you lay flat, the mucus can pool up in the sinuses and cause more congestion and blockages.

For moderate or severe symptoms or acute sinusitis that isn’t clearing up with at-home treatments, consider talking to an ENT for medical care. Potential treatments might include the following.

  • Prescription Medications: If over-the-counter medications aren’t sufficient, then a prescription-strength drug might be a better solution to alleviate your symptoms.
  • Allergy Shots: The doctor will work to treat the underlying condition. If your sinus symptoms are occurring because of allergies, you might be able to use specific allergy treatments for relief – such as an allergy shot.
  • Surgery: Whenever possible, ENTs prefer to focus on minimally-invasive treatments first. But if these more minor treatments aren’t producing the desired results, then it might be time to discuss the surgical intervention. For example, surgery can reduce acute sinusitis by treating the root cause, such as draining the sinuses, fixing a deviated septum, or removing nasal tumors or polyps.

Long Term Prognosis: Acute Sinusitis

Most of the time, acute sinusitis will clear up with home treatments. However, if the symptoms don’t go away, then a case of acute sinusitis can turn into chronic or subacute sinusitis.

The good news is that medical treatments are available to help you find relief. Additionally, your ENT can talk to you about preventive strategies to minimize the risk of recurring infections in the future. For example, avoiding allergen triggers can be helpful in reducing the risk of repeating sinus infections throughout the year.

Consult with a Local ENT

Are you experiencing sinus issues? Then it’s time to talk to a local expert about your condition. We offer services for families in both Collin County and Dallas. At Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat, we are dedicated to providing quality healthcare solutions for people of all ages. You are invited to set up a consultation at a nearby office in Plano or Frisco, TX. Complete our online form for an appointment request, or call: (972) 596-4005.

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