The sinuses are hollow cavities in the cheeks, on either side of the nose, behind the nose, and in the forehead. Normally, these areas are filled with air and surrounded by a thin layer of mucus. When the tissues around these hollow areas swell or get infected, sinus infection occurs.
Sinus Infection Causes
Sinus infection, also called rhinosinusitis or sinusitis, makes it hard for the person infected to breathe. Pressure in the face can also be felt. This can also make the person infected cough and produce a lot of discharge.
The determining factor whether a sinus infection is contagious or not is the cause of it. A sinus infection can be contagious if it is caused by a virus because it is possible to spread this virus to another person. However, spreading the virus does not always guarantee that the other person will develop a sinus infection. Often, the other person only develops a cold. However, for other people, their cold eventually develops into a sinus infection.
The virus can be spread by sneezing and coughing. Reduce the risk of spreading sinus infection by covering your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze. If you sneeze directly into your hands and then touch another person or object, you can also spread the virus. Instead, sneeze or cough in the crook of your elbow. Keep in mind also to wash your hands regularly, especially when you are sick.
However, a virus is not always the cause of sinus infections. Sometimes, bacteria and fungi also cause sinus infections. If ever bacteria cause the infection, then it’s not contagious. There are instances when bacteria grow and cause infection in the sinuses because they are blocked and filled with mucus. A person is more likely to have bacterial sinusitis if the sinus infection lasts for more than 10-14 days. However, bacterial sinusitis is very rare. As a matter of fact, sinus infections caused by bacteria are only less than 2 percent of the total sinus infections.
Other causes of sinus infections include allergies, polyps, and deviated septum. Polyps are tissue growths in the nose while deviated septum is a crooked wall between the nostrils. Tobacco smoke, dry air, and polluted air sometimes trigger sinusitis also.
- Acute sinusitis – lasts for 2 to 4 weeks
- Subacute sinus inflammation – lasts 4 to 12 weeks
- Chronic inflammation – lasts 12 weeks or longer
- Recurrent sinusitis – happens several times a year
Symptoms of sinus infections include pain or pressure in the sinuses. This pain or pressure can also be felt on the forehead, between the eyes, on the sides of the nose, or at the upper jaw. The person infected may also have a headache and a runny or stuffy nose, making them unable to smell properly. One may also notice a thick, yellow, green, or cloudy nasal discharge. Postnasal drip, an instance where mucus or fluid from the nose goes down the throat, may also be experienced. Moreover, a person infected may also have a sore throat, cough, bad breath, fever, and fatigue. In addition, they may also feel pain in one or both ears and in their teeth.
Several treatment options for sinus infections focuses on symptom relief. These include:
- Saline nasal irrigation – pouring of saltwater solution into one nostril going to the other to wash out mucus
- Saline nasal sprays – helps loosen up the mucus and keeps it from getting crusty
- Decongestants – lessens the amount of mucus produced
- Acetaminophen – reduces pain and tenderness caused by swollen nasal passages
- Expectorants – helps loosen mucus so you can cough it up
- Antihistamines – helps with sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose, etc.
- Rest – a good amount of rest helps the body to recover faster
If treatments above do not work, your doctor may recommend other treatments which may include antibiotics, nasal corticosteroids and sprays, nasal antihistamine sprays, oral or injected corticosteroids, immunotherapy, and sinus surgery.
Take note that antibiotics will not help with sinus infections caused by viruses. They only work for sinusitis caused by bacteria. For bacterial sinusitis, a doctor will usually prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Someone who has bacterial sinusitis can expect to take antibiotics for up to 2 weeks.
For chronic or recurrent sinus infections, treatment will definitely focus on how to correct the underlying cause of the infections and how to reduce the frequency of these infections. To reduce inflammation, injecting of steroids directly into the nasal passages might be suggested by a doctor.
If chronic sinus infections is resistant to treatment, surgery might be necessary to open up the sinus passages for drainage. For chronic sinusitis caused by allergies, a doctor may give you allergy shots.
When to see a doctor
If you experience pain and pressure in the sinuses for more than a week, it is recommended that you see a doctor. See a doctor immediately if you have a fever above 38.8°C , problems seeing or a double vision, swelling and redness around the eyes, a swollen forehead, a stiff neck, confusion, intense pain, and headaches that do not go away.
Signs of sinus infections that a doctor will most likely be looking at are swelling of nasal passages and tissues, redness in the nasal passages, bad breath, greenish mucus, and tenderness of the face.
Your doctor will most likely ask you also if you experience pain in the ears, teeth, and areas surrounding the nasal passages.
Help alleviate your sinus infection by drinking plenty of water and warm fluids, such as tea. Incorporating these kinds of food in your diet will also help such as:
Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, orange, grapefruit, avocado, pineapple, peppers, horseradish, garlic, probiotics, ginger, turmeric, honey, and coconut oil
Avoid foods that cause or worsen congestion such as:
Refined sugars, ice cream, chocolates, spicy foods, milk, tomatoes, wine and other alcoholic drinks, red meat, cheese, pizza, gluten foods, banana, and nuts