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A FOCUS ON FLU SEASON
Sinus Infection Symptoms
Medically reviewed by Judith Marcin, M.D. — Written by Mary Ellen Ellis — Updated on June 10, 2020
When to see your doctor
Outlook and recovery
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Medically known as rhinosinusitis, a sinus infection occurs when your nasal cavities become infected, swollen, and inflamed.
Sinusitis is usually caused by a virus and often persists even after other upper respiratory symptoms are gone. In some cases, bacteria, or rarely fungus, may cause a sinus infection.
Other conditions such as allergies, nasal polyps, and tooth infections can also contribute to sinus pain and symptoms.
Chronic vs. acute
Acute sinusitis only lasts for a short time, defined by the American Academy of Otolaryngology as less than four weeks. An acute infection is usually part of a cold or other respiratory illness.
Chronic sinus infections last for more than twelve weeks or continue to recur. Specialists agree that the main criteria for sinusitis include facial pain, infected nasal discharge, and congestion.
Many sinus infection symptoms are common to both acute and chronic forms. Seeing your doctor is the best way to learn if you have an infection, to find the cause, and to get treatment.
Pain in your sinuses
Pain is a common symptom of sinusitis. You have several different sinuses above and below your eyes as well as behind your nose. Any of these can hurt when you have a sinus infection.
Inflammation and swelling cause your sinuses to ache with a dull pressure. You may feel pain in your forehead, on either side of your nose, in your upper jaws and teeth, or between your eyes. This may lead to a headache.
When you have a sinus infection, you may need to blow your nose often because of nasal discharge, which can be cloudy, green, or yellow. This discharge comes from your infected sinuses and drains into your nasal passages.
The discharge may also bypass your nose and drain down the back of your throat. You may feel a tickle, an itch, or even a sore throat.
This is called postnasal drip and it may cause you to cough at night when you’re lying down to sleep, and in the morning after getting up. It may also cause your voice to sound hoarse.
Your inflamed sinuses may also restrict how well you can breathe through your nose. The infection causes swelling in your sinuses and nasal passages. Because of the nasal congestion, you probably won’t be able to smell or taste as well as normal. Your voice may sound “stuffy.”
The relentless pressure and swelling in your sinuses can give you symptoms of a headache. Sinus pain can also give you earaches, dental pain, and pain in your jaws and cheeks.
Sinus headaches are often at their worst in the morning because fluids have been collecting all night long. Your headache can also get worse when the barometric pressure of your environment changes suddenly.
Throat irritation and cough
As the discharge from your sinuses drains down the back of your throat, it can cause irritation, especially over a long period of time. This can lead to a persistent and annoying cough, which can be worse when lying down to sleep or first thing in the morning after getting up from bed.
It can also make sleeping difficult. Sleeping upright or with your head elevated can help reduce the frequency and intensity of your coughing.
Sore throat and hoarse voice
Postnasal drip can leave you with a raw and aching throat. Although it may start as an annoying tickle, it can get worse. If your infection lasts for a few weeks or more, the mucus can irritate and inflame your throat as it drips, resulting in a painful sore throat and hoarse voice.
When to see your doctor for sinus infection
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have a fever, nasal discharge, congestion, or facial pain that lasts longer than ten days or keeps coming back. The Healthline FindCare tool can provide options in your area if you don’t already have a doctor.
A fever is not a typical symptom of either chronic or acute sinusitis, but it is possible. You could have an underlying condition that is causing your chronic infections, in which case you may need special treatment.
Treating sinus infections
Using a nasal decongestant spray, such as oxymetazoline, can help relieve sinus infection symptoms short-term. But you should limit your use to no more than three days.
Longer use can cause a rebound effect in nasal congestion. When using nasal spray to treat a sinus infection, keep in mind that prolonged use can make your symptoms worse.
Sometimes a steroid nasal spray, such as fluticasone, triam