February 19, 2019
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Eric L. Winarsky, M.D. contributes to topics such as Otolaryngology.
Cold and flu season isn’t quite over yet. If you have congestion that includes sinus pressure, you may have a cold—or it could be a sinus infection. How can you be sure that it’s one or the other, and when is it time to make an appointment with your doctor?
Eric L. Winarsky, M.D., an otolaryngologist and surgeon with Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group, helps answer the 5 most Googled questions about nasal inflammation and sinus infections.
- What are signs of a sinus infection?
If you feel pressure behind your eyes and cheeks, have a worsening headache, cough, fever, bad breath, fatigue, decreased sense of smell or taste, nose bleeds, clogged ears and/or postnasal drip, you may have a sinus infection and nasal inflammation—and not just a cold.
- What’s the best way to get sinus pressure relief?
Over-the-counter options include nasal decongestants and nasal steroid sprays. Some people try saline spray and nasal irrigation to find relief. Others stick with over-the-counter pain relievers to manage pain and fever symptoms. Drinking plenty of fluids, applying warm compresses to the sinus area, light facial massage and vaporizer use can also keep congestion moving on the way out.
“This is a very complex problem and depending on the severity and the level of inflammation there are a host of diagnostic exams and tests to be performed before a true diagnosis can be made so that a treatment plan can be formulated,” Winarsky says.
As such, there is no “silver bullet or one pill” to take that can alleviate all the symptoms.
While a sinus infection can go away on its own, it is a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor—especially if you seem to be getting a lot of sinus infections. Also, nasal discharge, fever, congestion or pain that lasts more than 10 days warrants a trip to see your physician.
- Are sinus infections viral?
Sinusitis can occur due to a viral infection. If excess mucus develops and cannot exit the body due to a blockage or nasal inflammation, it can cause a sinus infection. You may start with a viral cold that doesn’t clear up and then turns into a bacterial infection. Allergies can also lead to sinus infections, as can a deviated septum. When bacteria grows in the sinuses, it is a bacterial infection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, sinusitis is typically caused by a virus, and less commonly caused by bacteria.
- Do you need antibiotics for a sinus infection?
A viral sinus infection will likely resolve itself on its own, but it can take a few weeks to do so. If the sinus infection is caused by bacteria, it is likely to need antibiotics in order to resolve. But antibiotics aren’t a cure-all. They will not cure a sinus infection that was caused by a virus or an irritant in the air.
- Can sinus infections lead to ear infections?
Yes. A sinus infection can cause fluid to be trapped in the ear behind the eardrum. Bacteria and viruses can grow and can cause an ear infection. It’s especially important to get to the doctor if you’re feeling pain or pressure in the ear.
When you have a sinus issue, it’s important to understand that the nose and sinuses are a unit. This means you could be dealing with rhinosinusitis, which is inflammation of the nasal and sinus cavities. Sinusitis refers to an infection of the sinuses only.
There are many reasons why the nose and sinuses become inflamed; it can be an anatomical issue or an infectious one. A former injury or birth defect, as well as sensitivities to allergens can cause some of the physiological impairments that lead to sinus issues.
Next Steps & Resources:
- Meet our clinical contributor: Eric L. Winarsky, M.D.
- To make an appointment with Dr. Winarsky or another doctor near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.