Acute sinusitis

Also known as rhinosinusitis

The sinuses are tiny spaces located in the cheeks, forehead and around the eyes. Sinusitis means infection or inflammation of the sinuses.

Key points

  1. Sinusitis causes a heavy, full feeling in the head that can be painful and uncomfortable.
  2. It frequently occurs after someone has had a cold, hay fever or other allergies.
  3. Normally it gets better on its own after 1 to 2 weeks.
  4. Over-the-counter nasal sprays containing oxymetazoline should be used with caution.
  5. Pain relieving medication and home remedies may provide some relief.
  6. In chronic sinusitis symptoms persist for 3 months or more.


Some people get sinusitis after every cold, while others get it rarely. The main causes of sinusitis are:

  • Viral, upper respiratory tract infection.
  • Hay fever or other allergies.
  • Bacterial or fungal infection is much less common as the cause.
  • Only 0.5% to 2% of cases are estimated to be complicated by a bacterial rhinosinusitis (sinusitis).

Other things that can increase your risk of getting sinusitis include:

  • smoking
  • regular use of some nasal decongestants
  • nasal polyps (swellings in the linings of the nose or sinuses)
  • dental disease
  • deviated nasal septum
  • barotrauma
  • immunodeficiency conditions.


Although the causes can differ, the symptoms of sinusitis are the same. People who have sinusitis often describe their face as feeling heavy or full, or as if they have a cold they can’t get rid of. Symptoms commonly experienced include:

  • a blocked or stuffy nose
  • feeling of pressure inside the head
  • pain around the eyes, forehead, cheeks or teeth which gets worse when leaning forward
  • yellow, green or grey mucus from the nose
  • a post-nasal drip – when mucus from the sinus area drips down the inside of the throat
  • loss of sense of smell or taste
  • headache.


The diagnosis of acute rhinosinusitis (nose and sinuses) is usually made based on symptoms as above.


Antibiotics are commonly prescribed for sinusitis. However, as sinus infections are usually caused by a viral infection antibiotics are not always effective (because antibiotics don’t work on viruses).

Most cases of sinusitis clear up within a couple of weeks. If symptoms persist for 3 months or more, it is called chronic sinusitis

  • In rare cases this can cause serious complications, such as infection of the bones or tissues around the sinuses.
  • Treatment for chronic sinusitis may include prescription nasal sprays and oral steroids
  • Sometimes surgery is necessary to drain a blocked sinus, or to enlarge the drainage passage and improve air flow.

Self care

To help relieve the pain and discomfort caused by sinusitis you could try the following home treatments:

  • Rest to help your body to heal faster.
  • Drink lots of warm fluids to help thin the mucus.
  • Gargle a saline solution made with 1 tsp salt dissolved in warm water.
  • Inhale steam with a few drops of eucalyptus oil or Vicks.
  • Sinus rinse with saline water.
  • Hold a hot compress against your face.

And/or medications:

  • Pain relief such as paracetamol.
  • Antihistamines (such as loratadine) especially ones with little or no sedating side effects, can be helpful for an allergic reaction.
  • Antibiotics in some cases - see below.

Use decongestant remedies with caution. Nasal drops or sprays can provide welcome relief from a stuffy nose but it is important not to overuse them.

  • Some drops or sprays contain an ingredient called oxymetazoline. This is very effective at relieving a stuffy, congested nose but it can actually cause congestion (known as rebound congestion) if used for more than 3 days.
  • If you are still being bothered by a stuffy nose after 3 days,  pseudoephedrine pills might be helpful (to get these you need to see your doctor for a 'controlled drug form').

Learn more  

Sinusitis Choosing Wisely, American Medical Association
Acute sinusitis Mayo Clinic
Acute sinusitis
Treating sinusitis NHS Choices UK
Acute and Chronic Sinusitis: Treatments and Home Remedies WebMD

Last reviewed: 20 Jan 2015