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A sinus infection may feel like it’ll never end, but there are many ways to soothe symptoms and speed up your recovery.
Sinus infections are inflammation of the sinuses, which are cavities above, behind, and below your eyes. Infections happen like this: The sinuses are lined with a thin membrane that produces protective mucus. This mucus, along with hair cells, work together to flush out foreign particles and organisms like as bacteria, viruses, and dust.
When everything is working well, the mucus drains through small openings from the sinuses into your nose. However, sometimes this drainage becomes blocked, often due to an infection or allergies, which causes the sinus membranes to swell. This leads to building head pressure and congestion.
Other symptoms include post-nasal drip, headaches, and a dazed feeling. If you have a bacterial infection, you may also experience fever, green discharge from the nose, pain and redness over the infected sinus, and weakness that forces bed rest.
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Sinus Infection Treatments
Sinus infections can be treated with either prescription or over-the-counter medications. Here are the most common ones and how they work:
- Antibiotics. The common treatment for bacterial infections, antibiotics are usually taken from three to 28 days or longer, depending on the type of antibiotic and the infection’s severity. They fight the infection by attacking the bacteria. It is possible to build up a resistance to antibiotics from overuse, which is why they are often used only if symptoms of sinusitis last longer than a week to 10 days. (See also our post “UHN Blog: Antibiotics Are Over-Prescribed?“) Keep in mind that antibiotics for sinusitis do not help with symptoms at first, so some over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help ease pain and discomfort.
- Nasal decongestant sprays. Spray shrink swollen nasal passages, which improves the flow of drainage from the sinuses. They are often used for no more than three to four days.
- Antihistamines. Antihistamines block inflammation caused by an allergic reaction. This helps to fight symptoms of allergies that can lead to your swollen nasal and sinus passages.
- Topical nasal corticosteroids. Prescription sprays that help calm inflammation and swelling in the nasal passages and sinus openings.
- Nasal saline washes. Regular nasal rinses can help clear thickened secretions from the nasal passages to improve breathing and keep mucus from building up.
Consult with your doctor about using any over-the-counter nasal decongestants and antihistamines. Some of these contain drying agents that actually can thicken mucus and make your sinus infection symptoms worse.
Originally published in May 2016 and updated.