Anything that can cause interference with the mucus drainage out of the sinuses or flow of air can result in a sinus infection. Allergies, common colds, and tissue irritants (like cigarette smoke, cocaine and OTC nasal sprays) can cause the sinus openings and tissues of the adjacent nasal passages to swell up, resulting in the blockage of the sinus openings. Growths or tumors that are located in the vicinity of the sinus openings can block the sinuses too.
There are two types of sinus infection, viral sinus infection and bacterial sinus infection. The symptoms for both types are almost the same. Treatment for sinus infection depends on the cause of the illness. Therefore, it is important to diagnose the actual cause of the infection before any treatment is given.
Viral vs. Bacterial Sinus Infection
Viral Sinus Infection
Aside from causing common cold, viruses can cause inflammation in the sinuses. Symptoms like a runny nose and nasal congestion are some of the hallmarks of viruses which can further lead to inflammation of the sinuses. The discomfort from the illness reaches its peak usually on the fourth or fifth day and slowly begins to recede afterwards. It can take anywhere from a week to ten days for the above mentioned nasal symptoms to go away on their own. Improvement in patients with common cold can be seen after that, yet it might take them more time to return to normal.
Bacterial Sinus Infection
Bacterial sinus infection or bacterial sinusitis occurs when drainage of the fluid collected within the sinuses is hampered somehow. This is often observed in common cold which causes an overload of the fluid in the sinuses. Bacteria tend to thrive in the sinus pockets that are wet, moist and filled with fluid. The bacterial growth usually occurs after 10-day duration of the common cold.
Doctors are not able to differentiate between viral or bacterial sinusitis since the diagnosis for both of them is to check the symptoms like nasal congestion, headache, cough, thick post-nasal or nasal drainage, etc. In some cases, the help of other diagnostic tests like cultures or CT scans (computed tomography scans) is taken to reach a definitive diagnosis.
Symptoms of Bacterial Sinus Infection
As per the guidelines, a sinus infection is more likely to be bacterial than viral if any of the following conditions are present.
- No clinical improvement occurs in the symptoms even after the passage of at least 10 days.
- The severity of the symptoms is quite high, including facial pain, nasal discharge and a fever in excess of 102°F which remains for at least 4 days on the trot at the start of the illness.
- Worsening of the symptoms is characterized by the development of a new headache or fever or increase in the amount of nasal discharge, usually after a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract that has remained for 6 days and had seemed to improve initially.
How to Treat Bacterial Sinus Infection
- Take a Rest and Keep Hydrated
Taking rest and consuming plenty of fluids are highly effective natural remedies for a sinus infection and need to be used in case of both viral and bacterial sinus infections.
- Relieve Your Congestion
Congestion in the sinuses can be reduced by trying the following steps:
- Applying a moist and warm washcloth to the face several times throughout the day.
- Drinking a good amount of fluids for thinning the mucus.
- Inhaling steam for 2 to 4 times a day.
- Spraying with a nasal saline many times throughout the day.
- Using a humidifier.
- Using a Neti pot for flushing the sinuses.
- Note: The use of OTC spray nasal decongestants should be done very carefully. They are helpful in the beginning but continuous use can worsen nasal stuffiness.
- Ease the Sinus Pressure or Pain
Use the following self-care methods for easing sinus pressure or pain:
- Don't board an airplane if you are congested.
- Refrain from bending forwards and avoid sudden temperature changes.
- Make use of ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Antibiotics can be required for treating a bacterial sinus infectionas they can fight the bacteria that have grown inside the sinuses.
Antibiotics should be prescribed for adults for preventing serious complications or speeding up the recovery process only if the diagnosis confirms that the patient is suffering from an acute bacterial sinus infection.Antibiotic treatment becomes necessary for adults if the following symptoms are observed.
- Mild to severe symptoms that persist for over 10 days.
- Pain and high fever that remains for over 4 days.
- Symptoms that worsen after improvement.
Antibiotic treatment for adolescents and children is only recommended in the following situations by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Severe cases of bacterial sinusitis accompanied with a fever of over 102°F, facial pain and nasal discharge that has lasted for more than 3 days.
- Worsening of the symptoms after initial improvement and development of a new fever or increase in cough or nasal discharge.
- Occurrence of other conditions like streptococcal pharyngitis (strep throat), swollen lymph nodes, pneumonia or ear infections come along with the sinus infection.
It is best to consult your doctor and get yourself properly diagnosed if you think that you are suffering from bacterial sinusitis. People experiencing chronic sinusitis should consult a nasal and sinus specialist to evaluate their condition. People experiencing sinus infections that come back after a few days need to visit a specialist and consider alternative treatments to cure their condition permanently.