ChristianaCare

Antibiotic Use

Sinusitis

Do You Have Sinusitis? What’s the Best Treatment?

Sinusitis is often caused by a virus. And when it is caused by a virus, antibiotics won’t help you feel better, because antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses. Using antibiotics when they are not needed could cause more harm, including side effects and antibiotic resistance.

Sinuses are hollow spaces in your skull that are linked to your nasal passages by small channels. They’re lined by mucosal tissue, which can get irritated and swell, causing a blockage to the nasal cavity. Infections occur when the fluid is trapped, and germs grow.

After you’ve had a cold or when you have allergies, you might feel pressure and pain on either side of your nose, between your eyes or in the middle of your forehead. Your sinuses are located in these areas, as well as behind your nose.

Nine out of 10 sinus infections are caused by viruses. In children, five to seven cases out of 10 are related to a virus.

Since antibiotics only kill bacteria, they won’t help if a virus is causing your sinusitis. That’s good news considering that antibiotics can have unpleasant side effects, such as stomachaches, dizziness and diarrhea.

Antibiotics also can cost more money than many over-the-counter medications. The consequences of using them when they’re not needed also include the risk of a potentially life-threatening diarrheal illness known as Clostridium difficile (or C. diff) infection.

But bacteria can cause some sinus infections, and it’s important to know when to see your healthcare provider, who will help to determine the difference.

What are the symptoms of sinusitis?

You might experience the following:

  • Headache
  • Congested or stuffy nose
  • Runny nose
  • Facial pain in the areas where your sinuses are located
  • Postnasal drip (mucus that runs down the back of your throat)
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Coughing

How can you tell if you have a viral or bacterial sinus infection?

Your healthcare provider can often tell whether your sinusitis is caused by a virus, the most common type of sinus infection, or bacteria. There are some common distinctions.

If symptoms are present for less than 10 days and they’re not getting worse, the infection is likely viral. Antibiotics are not needed.

Symptoms of a viral sinus infection will:

  • Peak in two to three days
  • Linger for up to 10 days but decrease in severity

If symptoms last longer than 10 days and get worse, the infection could be bacterial. Other indications of a bacterial infection include:

  • Severe symptoms from day one, such as a high fever, an abundance of discharge from the nose and facial pain for three to four days in a row
  • Symptoms that last for up to six days, after which you feel temporarily better but the get a new fever, headache or increased nasal discharge

When do you seek medical care?

If you have a viral sinus infection, see your pharmacist about over-the-counter medications for your individual symptoms, such as congestion, cough and headache.

Be sure to tell the pharmacist about any prescription medications that you’re already taking or any medical conditions. Be careful when you use certain nasal drops, which have a rebound effect (make your symptoms worse when you stop taking them) if you take them longer than directed.

See your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever of 100.4°F or higher
  • Your symptoms last longer than 10 days or continue to get worse
  • Over-the-counter medications don’t help you feel better
  • You’ve had multiple sinus infections in the past year

How do you prevent sinusitis?

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Keep up to date with vaccines.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke, chemicals, dust and air pollution.
  • Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, so you don’t infect others.
  • Use a clean humidifier to combat dry air in the home caused by heating and air conditioning.

Resources