Acute Sinusitis

Front view of sinuses showing red, swollen lining and mucus.Acute sinusitis is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the sinuses. It is usually from a bacterial infection that follows an upper respiratory viral infection. Your doctor can help you find relief. Read on to learn more.

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 soreness pain

  • Headache

  • Fever

  • Postnasal drip (drainage in the back of the throat)

  • Congestion

  • Drainage that is thick and colored, instead of clear

  • Cough

Diagnosis of acute sinusitis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. He or she will examine your ear, nose, and throat. X-rays are usually not needed. If your sinusitis recurs, you may have a culture to check for bacteria or imaging tests.


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 is treated with antibiotic medication for 10 to 14 days. This medication should be taken until it is gone, even if you feel better.