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What is sinusitis? It may be one of the most common—and painful—nasal conditions we experience. Sinusitis means inflammation of the sinuses—the air-filled cavities above, behind, and below your eyes. Fortunately, sinusitis treatment options can help provide relief.
Our sinuses are lined with a thin membrane that produces mucus. Hair cells sweep the mucus along to flush out foreign particles and organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and dust.
Mucus normally drains through small openings from the sinuses into the nose. However, sometimes this drainage system becomes blocked, often due to an infection or allergies, which causes the sinus membranes to swell. This in effect causes mounting pressure, discomfort, and feeling of congestion in the head.
Left untreated, the blocked sinuses may develop a bacterial infection as mucus builds up in the sinus and becomes a breeding ground for bacteria.
Symptoms of sinusitis often depend on the cause. For instance, post-nasal drip symptoms, headaches, and a dazed feeling are common with allergic sinusitis, or sinus blockage from a virus infection.
Bacterial sinusitis may cause fever, green discharge from the nose, pain and a red flush over the infected sinus, and aching in the teeth just below the sinus. In extreme cases, bacterial sinusitis can trigger high fevers, shaking chills, and weakness that may cause a person to be bedridden.
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The good news is that there are many treatment options available, depending on the type and severity of your sinusitis. They include the following:
- Sinusitis antibiotics. These are standard treatments for bacterial sinusitis, and help eliminate the infection by attacking the bacteria that cause it. Sinusitis antibiotics are usually taken from three to 28 days, depending on the type of antibiotic. Longer treatments may be prescribed for people with longer lasting or severe cases. Overuse of antibiotics can lead to resistance, so you should consider taking an antibiotic only if symptoms last longer than seven to 10 days. Antibiotics for sinus infections 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. These medications shrink swollen nasal passages, which improves the flow of drainage from the sinuses. They can be helpful but shouldn’t be used for 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. These prescription nasal sprays prevent and reverse inflammation and swelling in the nasal passages and sinus openings. The sprays are not absorbed into the blood stream and thus can be used over long periods of time when used as directed.
- Over-the-counter nasal decongestants and antihistamines. Some of these drugs contain drying agents that actually can thicken mucus and make your infection worse. Use them only when prescribed by your doctor./li>
- Nasal saline washes. Regular nasal rinses can help clear thickened secretions from the nasal passages to improve breathing and keep mucus from building up.
- If your sinus infection continues despite treatment, or reoccurs on a regular basis, you may be a candidate for surgery. Here, the sinus openings are widened to allow normal breathing and improve sinus drainage. Your doctor can advise you on whether this may be a viable option for sinusitis treatment for you.
For further reading, see these University Health News posts:
- “Sinus Infection: What Medications Do You Need?“
- “Clear It Up! Post-Nasal Drip Remedies“
Originally published in March 2016 and updated.