Sinus infections are way more common than we realize. It is also often referred to as ‘sinusitis’. Sinusitis or a sinus infection is the swelling of the sinuses, which is most often caused by an infection.
Commonly these infections will clear up on their own within 2 to 3 weeks, though this is not always the case, though medicines can help if it is taking longer to go away.
What is a sinus infection?
A sinus infection happens when fluid builds up in the air-filled pockets in the face, which we know as the sinuses. This build up allows germs to grow, viruses such as colds can cause a great deal of sinus infections, but bacteria can also cause them.
In your face you have many sinus cavities. You have frontal sinuses that are above your eyes and in your forehead, you have ethmoid sinuses which are in the sides of your nose, and the maxillary sinuses which are around your cheeks. Any of these sinuses can get infected, and you will experience an uncomfortable build up of fluids and feel a lot like you have come down with a cold.
Sinus infections can often be mistaken for a cold as they can make you display similar symptoms to a mild cold depending on what kind of infection you have. You can also get a sinus infection as part of an allergic reaction, such as hay fever, or an allergy to pet hair.
Types of sinus infection
There are a few different types of sinus infections, all generally have the same symptoms, but different types can last different lengths of time.
- Acute Sinusitis: This type of sinusitis does not last very long. It is often due to a viral infection that has come about as the result of the common cold, it can cause symptoms that will last around one or two weeks. If the infection is bacterial though, you may find it to last up to four weeks. Seasonal allergies can also cause this type of sinusitis.
- Subacute sinusitis: Symptoms of this type of sinusitis will often last up to three months. It is most common with bacterial infections and some seasonal allergies, such as hay fever.
- Chronic Sinusitis: Chronic sinusitis is exactly what it sounds like, symptoms with this will last more than three months but are usually less severe. Bacterial infections can often be to blame. It will often occur as nasal structural issues.
Who is at a higher risk of this?
You can be at a higher risk of developing sinusitis, especially chronically, if you have a deviated nasal septum, which is when the tissue that separates your nostrils is unevenly displaced.
You are also at a higher risk if you have a nasal bone spur, nasal polyps (typically non-cancerous growths inside your nose), allergies, or any recent contact with mould.
Symptoms of a sinus infection
You may commonly experience sinusitis after a cold or flu, if you think you have it there are some symptoms that may give you a heads-up that you have got sinusitis.
- Pain, swelling, or tenderness around your cheeks, eyes, and forehead, where your sinuses are.
- A blocked nose.
- A reduced sense of smell.
- Being able to breathe out of one nostril more noticeably than usual.
- Green or yellow mucus from your nose.
- A sinus headache. (A headache that stems from your sinuses)
- A high temperature.
- Bad breath (from post-nasal drip)
- Possible toothache.
Note that with chronic sinusitis you will also likely get a decreased sense of smell, the inflammation will interfere with your sinuses ability to properly drain fluids, and so you will experience a loss of taste and smell.
How does a sinus infection cause a loss of taste?
When your sinuses are healthy and draining properly the air movement through them will usually help the volatile molecules settle in, which will give your brain a signal to let you know what you are tasting.
This is why when you have a sinus infection, especially a chronic infection, it will dull your sense of taste. Even if you still know something is sweet, salty, or spicy, the finder nuances of taste such as the subtler tastes of a salad, souffle, or even a fine wine, would be rendered lost until you can get your infection gone.
If you have chronic sinusitis, and you have an annoyingly persistent post-nasal drip, you may also find that tastes of foods are masked by the taste of the drip, or by the flavour of your own bad breath as a result of the post-nasal drip. Though this is only in some of the most long-standing cases.
Depending on the severity of the infection you can treat it at home, with help from a pharmacist, or in more serious cases with a few trips to the doctor.
If you only have a mild sinus infection, you can treat it at home, getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, and taking painkillers. You should also avoid allergic triggers and stop smoking. It is also worth using a nasal rinse, clearing out your sinuses with a salt water solution to ease the congestion.
A pharmacist can advise you with medicines, such as nasal sprays or drops to help you unblock your nose, salt water nasal sprays that will rinse out the inside of your nose can also work. Do be aware that while you can buy nasal sprays without a prescription you should not use them for more than one week
You should contact a doctor if your symptoms are severe or are getting worse, if painkillers do not help, if you see no improvement after one week, or if you are consistently getting sinusitis.
A GP can help you giving you steroid based nasal sprays, antihistamines if you have an allergy that is causing your sinusitis, or antibiotics. If these do not work then you may have to see an ear, nose and throat specialist, if your symptoms persist after 3 months, if it is reoccurring or if your symptoms are only on one side of your face.