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Acute Sinusitis

Acute sinusitis is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the sinuses. It is usually due to a viral infection of the sinuses, although bacteria may be involved in prolonged cases. This may follow a cold or other upper respiratory illness. Your doctor can help you find relief. Read on to learn more.

Front view of face with sinuses visible. Sinus lining is red and inflamed, and mucus is building up inside.


What is acute sinusitis?

Sinuses are air-filled spaces in the skull behind the face. They are kept moist and clean by a lining of mucosa. Things such as pollen, smoke, and chemical fumes can irritate the mucosa. It can then become inflamed (swell up). As a response to irritation, the mucosa makes more mucus and other fluids. Tiny hairlike cilia cover the mucosa. Cilia help transport mucus toward the opening of the sinus. Too much mucus may cause the cilia to stop working. This blocks the sinus opening. A buildup of fluid in the sinuses then leads to symptoms such as pain and pressure. It can also encourage growth of bacteria in the sinuses.

Common symptoms of acute sinusitis

You may have:

  • Facial pain

  • Headache

  • Fever

  • Postnasal drip

  • Nasal congestion

  • Redness of facial skin over sinus

Diagnosis of acute sinusitis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. An evaluation will be done. A culture (sample of mucus) is sometimes taken to check for bacteria. If you have multiple bouts of sinusitis, imaging (X-rays or CAT scans) may be done to check for an anatomic cause of the infection.

Treatment of acute sinusitis

Treatment is designed to unblock the sinus opening and help the cilia work again. Antihistamine and decongestant medications may be prescribed. These can reduce inflammation and decrease fluid production. If a bacterial infection is present, it can be treated with antibiotic medication. This medication should be taken until it is gone, even if you feel better. However, most sinusitis is caused by viruses, antibiotics will not help a viral infection.


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