Everyone knows and hates that stuffy, congested feeling of having a sinus infection. It's an unpleasant experience that can last for days, weeks, or even months at a time. But did you know that sinus infections can be much more serious than just a stuffy nose? In this article, we'll explore what sinus infections are, how they're caused, and the different types of treatments available for them.
What Are Sinus Infections?
A sinus infection, sometimes referred to as sinusitis or rhinosinusitis, is an inflammatory condition that affects the tissues of the sinuses causing congestion. These are air-filled spaces within the bones of the face, specifically between the eyes, behind the cheekbones, and in the forehead.
In a perfect world, sinuses work healthily to serve their natural job of keeping the nose moist. But with a case of sinusitis, they become clogged and unable to function properly. The result is a build-up of pressure within the facial cavities as fluid accumulates with nowhere to go. Sealed conditions like these make it easier for bacteria and viruses to grow and take hold of the immune system, leading to worsening symptoms throughout the face.
What Are the Types of Sinus Infections?
When people say 'sinus infection,' they usually refer to any case of infection within the sinuses. Doctors have more specific terms to classify them by though, each referencing the nature of the case at hand. We will briefly explain the main types of sinus infections below.
- Acute Sinusitis: Acute sinusitis refers to cases of sinus infection that start suddenly and clear up in a short time frame, usually between two and four weeks.
- Subacute Sinusitis: Cases of subacute sinusitis are similar to acute cases in terms of symptoms and severity, but usually last longer at 4 to 12 weeks.
- Chronic Sinusitis: Chronic sinusitis is a prolonged condition in which symptoms last for 12 weeks or more.
- Recurrent Sinusitis: Individuals diagnosed with recurrent sinusitis experience bouts of symptoms multiple times throughout the year.
Aside from these terms, which indicate duration, a sinus infection can also be classified by the areas of the face it affects. Rhinosinusitis and pansinusitis are often mixed up with one another, and while they have similar symptoms, technically impact different places.
In rhinosinusitis cases, only the sinuses and nasal passages are infected. Pansinusitis, on the other hand, is generally a more severe form of sinus infection in which all the paranasal sinuses as well as the nasal passages are inflamed.
What Causes Sinus Infections?
The mechanical cause behind sinus infection is simple: a blockage of the sinuses that leads to fluid buildup and bacterial growth. Why that blockage happens though, is another question. There are several well-known contributing factors to sinusitis, many of which are bacterial or viral.
Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as allergies, is one of the most prevalent causes of sinus infection. They occur when the immune system senses a foreign substance — like pet dander or pollen — and releases antibodies to fight it. This reaction causes inflammation which can block the sinuses, creating an environment suitable for bacteria growth and the development of a sinus infection.
The Common Cold
You may know the common cold as the mildest of illnesses, but it can cause serious sinus problems. The same virus that causes a light cold can also cause inflammation of the sinuses and nasal passages, as well as increased production of mucus. This buildup is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria to grow and cause infection.
A growing body of research connects air pollution with cases of chronic sinusitis. It's thought that inhaling particles from air pollution, especially fine particulate matter, can aggravate sinus tissues and reduce the body's defense against infection.
The septum is a thin wall of cartilage that separates the nostrils. Occasionally, this structure can be off-centered or even curved, making it difficult for air to pass through and putting pressure on the sinuses. Individuals with a deviated septum are more likely to develop a sinus infection.
Nasal polyps are non-cancerous growths in the nasal passages or sinuses. They typically form due to chronic inflammation, such as the result of sinus infections or allergies. Polyps can block the sinuses and trap fluids which can then become infected with bacteria or viruses.
Sinus Infection Symptoms
Cases of sinus infection typically materialize within a matter of days and can range in both duration and severity. In any case, they are capable of provoking a host of unwelcome symptoms - most of which are around the nose and eyes.
Here's a look at common signs and symptoms of a sinus infection:
- Nasal congestion
- Facial pressure and pain around the eyes, forehead, or cheeks
- Ear pressure
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Runny nose with green or yellow nasal discharge (mucus)
- Pain in the teeth
- Trouble smelling
Sinus Infection Recovery Time Frame
Sinus infections are pathogenic, meaning that they're driven by active bacteria or viruses. Under the right conditions - and especially for those with weak immune systems - cases can persist from weeks to months. Read below to learn more about recovery timeframes and what factors may impact them.
How Long Do Sinus Infections Usually Last?
The length of time that you have a sinus infection will depend on several things, including the type of pathogen behind the infection and how quickly you take action to treat it. Generally speaking, a sinus infection will last anywhere from 10 days to over four weeks.
Treatment is arguably the biggest influence on recovery time; those taking antibiotics or other medications to treat their infection will likely feel better faster.
How Long Do Sinus Infections Last Without Antibiotics?
Sinus infections don't necessarily require antibiotics; many cases resolve themselves within a few weeks. But if left untreated, the infection can linger for months. Bacterial sinusitis is especially dangerous to leave unchecked, as it can quickly spread to the eyes and brain, resulting in serious health consequences.
How Long Do Sinus Infections Last With Antibiotics?
Even with antibiotics, a sinus infection won't go away completely overnight. It can take several days to a week or more for the infection to be completely eradicated. Still, antibiotics are the most effective way to treat sinusitis and will shorten recovery time considerably compared to leaving it untreated.
The best way to fight off sinus infections is by preventing them altogether. Good hygiene and avoiding immunity-weakening activities like smoking and excessive drinking can help keep your chances of developing a sinus infection at bay.
If you suspect that allergens are behind your sinusitis, take special care to mitigate their presence in your life. Pollen, dust mites, mold, and pet dander can all trigger a reaction and cause inflammation that leads to sinus blockage and fluid build-up. They can all be controlled with proper mitigatory measures, whether that's staying inside on high-pollen days or investing in an air purifier for your home.
The first real step to eliminating allergy-induced sinus infections from your life is taking an allergy test. This will determine what if any, common allergens you are sensitive to and provide a way forward to avoiding them. Wyndly's at-home allergy test kit is the perfect solution for those who don't want to go through traditional skin pricking at the doctor's office - all it requires is a single finger poke. Even better, it can be done from the comfort of your own home!
If testing confirms you have allergies, you'll have several options to consider in terms of treatment. We explain the two most common below.
Allergy shots are the traditional form of treatment for allergies. Shots contain small doses of the allergen that cause your body to build a natural immunity over time. While it can be effective, this approach is fairly uncomfortable and requires frequent trips to the doctor's office.
Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is an alternative to allergy shots. It involves taking a liquid allergen drop or tablet under the tongue every day to build up immunity like allergy shots - just without the needles. SLIT is less likely to cause severe allergic reactions than allergy shots so it can be safely taken from the comfort of your home.
When Should I See a Doctor?
Whether you think you're dealing with a bout of allergies or sinusitis, it's important to see a doctor to determine what the best treatment plan is for you. If your symptoms don't start to improve after a week even with at-home remedies, then it's likely that you need antibiotics or other medications to manage the issue.
Take Our Allergy Assessment & Get Treatment Today
Wyndly is here to help you get long-term relief from your allergies. Our doctors will work with you to identify the allergens causing your symptoms and will create a personalized treatment plan to help you live allergy-free. Take our quick online allergy assessment today to see if Wyndly is right for you!