Sinusitis is when an infection or inflammation of your sinuses stops them from draining properly. Your head may feel heavy and painful and you may have a blocked or runny nose and headache.

What sinusitis is

Sinuses are air filled spaces in the skull, located behind your forehead, eyes, nose and cheeks. They are lined with a thin membrane that makes mucus, which drains out through your nose. Sinusitis happens when the lining becomes inflamed or infected. This makes it harder for the mucus to drain properly, and the sinuses become blocked.

Acute sinusitis usually gets better within 1 to 2 weeks. Sinusitis lasting for longer than 3 months is called chronic sinusitis.

Causes of sinusitis

Acute sinusitis

Sinusitis is usually caused by a virus. Less common causes are a bacterial infection or allergies.

Chronic sinusitis

Chronic sinusitis is usually caused by inflammation in your nose and sinuses rather than from an infection. You are more at risk of getting chronic sinusitis if you:

  • have hayfever
  • have asthma
  • have allergies
  • smoke
  • have growths (polyps) inside your nose and sinuses.

Symptoms of sinusitis

Acute sinusitis

Common symptoms include:

  • a headache or pain around your eyes, forehead, cheeks or teeth which gets worse when leaning forward
  • feeling of pressure around your face and inside your head
  • a blocked or stuffy nose
  • a runny nose
  • mucus from the sinus area dripping down the inside of your throat (post-nasal drip)
  • loss of sense of smell or taste

Chronic sinusitis

You have chronic sinusitis if you have sinusitis for longer than 3 months. Symptoms include:

  • blocked or runny nose
  • pain or a feeling of pressure in your face
  • reduced sense of smell and taste
  • sore ears or teeth
  • bad breath
  • sore throat or cough.

Diagnosing sinusitis

Acute sinusitis

Your healthcare provider can usually diagnose acute sinusitis from your symptoms. They may also check to see if you have a temperature or if you have tenderness around your sinuses. They may also examine your nose, as often the lining of your nose swells up when you have acute sinusitis.

They may also ask you to have a CT scan if the diagnosis is not clear.

Chronic sinusitis

Your healthcare provider can diagnose chronic sinusitis by:

  • reviewing your medical history
  • completing an examination
  • doing some tests for example, a CT scan of your sinuses.

Treating sinusitis

Acute sinusitis

You can treat sinusitis with:

  • paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • decongestant nasal spray
  • steroid nasal spray
  • nasal salt water (saline) rinses
  • antihistamines if sinusitis is due to an allergy.

Chronic sinusitis

Treating any underlying conditions for example stopping smoking, treating asthma, will help reduce your symptoms. Your healthcare provider may also suggest you:

  • use a nasal salt water (saline) rinse
  • use nasal steroid sprays
  • take antibiotics.

Self care for acute and chronic sinusitis

To help relieve the pain and discomfort caused by sinusitis, try these home treatments.

  • Rest to help your body to heal faster.
  • Keep hydrated and drink lots of fluids to help thin the mucus.
  • Hold a hot compress or warm face pack over the painful area.
  • Consider using salt water (saline) nasal spray or drops, or a sinus rinse to relieve congestion and blockage in your nose.
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