How long does a sinus infection last?

Reviewed by Theresa H. Care Delivery Manager & Family Nurse Practitioner

Time saver 3 min read

You come down with a cold that you can’t seem to shake. Shouldn’t your headache and nasal congestion be clearing up by now? And what’s up with the facial pain and pressure and all that thick mucus clogging up your nose? The good news, is that your cold is gone. The bad news, is that it’s developed into a sinus infection. Why did this happen? Let’s take a closer look at why sinus infections develop and what you can do to treat them.

Anatomy of a sinus infection

A sinus infection, also called sinusitis, begins with inflammation in your paranasal sinuses — tiny, air-filled spaces behind your nose, cheeks, eyes and forehead. Glands within the sinuses naturally produce mucus that drains through small openings in your nasal cavity. But if this drainage system becomes blocked, mucus can back up and create a breeding ground for infection. So the question is, what’s causing inflammation and swelling in your sinuses?

Do you need an antibiotic?

The answer is no, probably not. Most sinus infections are viral, which means antibiotics won’t help. Focus on managing symptoms and let your immune system do its thing.

– Theresa H., CNP for Virtuwell

What’s behind a sinus infection?

Symptoms of a sinus infection may clear up on their own or drag on for weeks or months. If you want to know how long your sinus infection will last — and who doesn’t when you’re not feeling good — you need to get to the bottom of what’s causing it.

Viral sinusitis

A cold or other respiratory virus can spur a sinus infection. You don’t need antibiotics as a virus (not bacteria) is behind your infection. Over-the-counter pain medications, Mucinex and saline nasal sprays can all help ease symptoms while your body’s immune system goes to work. With viral sinus infections, you typically start feeling better about 7 to 10 days after symptoms kick in.

Bacterial sinusitis

If sinus pain and pressure persist or gets worse 10 days after an infection sets in, you could have a bacterial sinus infection. Prescription antibiotic medications can be taken to kill the bacteria and clear up the infection.

Allergic sinusitis

When sinus infection symptoms don’t go away or are recurrent, allergies are likely the cause. It’s important to address and get allergies under control. Allergy treatments typically include the use of an antihistamine and nasal steroid.

Did you know?

A word on allergies and sinus infections

Allergies are a histamine reaction that triggers inflammation and swelling in nasal and sinus passages. This is your body’s way of trying to flush out common allergens like pollen, mold, dust mites and pet dander. Inflammation in the nose and sinuses keeps getting triggered whenever you are exposed to allergens – which is why allergy sufferers are likely to experience persistent or recurrent sinus infections.

Tips to prevent future sinus infections

Do you often get a sinus infection after a cold? If so, here are some pro tips on ways to keep sinus infections at bay.

  • Say hello to hydration — Drink plenty of water and non-caffeinated beverages throughout the day
  • Say yes to irrigation — Use a nasal saline rinse daily to wash away allergens
  • Say goodbye to dry — Keep sinus passages moist by running a cool-mist humidifier in your bedroom at night
  • Say no to allergies – Manage allergy symptoms with a nasal steroid and oral antihistamine

Online treatment for sinus infections

To treat a sinus infection, you need to know why it happened. At Virtuwell, our board-certified nurse practitioners ask a series of questions to determine what’s behind your sinus infection including questions related to your symptoms and health history. Then, we’ll create an individualized treatment plan so you can start feeling better as soon as possible.

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