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Acute Sinusitis - Types, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention Strategies

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Acute sinusitis and the common cold are common, causing a blocked nose and sore throat.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Akshay. B. K.

Published At September 16, 2022
Reviewed AtDecember 27, 2023


Sinuses are four paired hollow spaces in the head connected by narrow channels. These sinuses are fully developed at age 12. It produces mucus that drains out of the channels of the nose, keeping the nose clean and bacteria-free. The sinuses are normally filled with air, but when they get filled with liquid, bacteria and other germs can grow easily, causing an infection. Around 35 million people in America develop sinusitis every year.

What Are the Different Types of Sinuses?

There are four sets of sinuses, which include:

  • Maxillary Sinuses: The maxillary sinuses are placed near the cheekbones on either side of the nose. The maxillary sinuses are the largest of all the sinuses.

  • Frontal Sinuses: The frontal sinuses are present just above the eyes, near the forehead.

  • Ethmoid Sinuses: Ethmoid sinuses are three small pairs located on either side of the bridge of the nose near the eyes.

  • Sphenoid Sinuses: The sphenoid sinuses are behind the eyes, deep into the skull. These four sets of sinuses are collectively known as paranasal sinuses.

How Does Sinusitis Develop?

Four pairs of sinuses surround the nose and produce mucus, which drains into the nasal cavity through narrow channels known as Ostia. The mucus leaves the frontal and maxillary sinuses, draining through the ethmoid sinuses. When a backup in the ethmoids is more likely to clog the other two types of sinuses. This sinusitis develops when one or more sinuses are blocked.

And innumerable bacteria in the nose are harmless until they keep draining into the nose along with the mucus. But when the sinus drainage is blocked, it is the perfect culture medium for the bacteria to grow out of control, resulting in an infection.

What Are the Different Types of Sinusitis?

There are four different types of sinusitis which include:

  • Acute Sinusitis: Sinusitis is referred to as acute when the symptoms persist for four weeks or less. This condition is caused by the bacteria growing in the sinuses.

  • Subacute Sinusitis: It is referred to as subacute when the symptoms are present for one to three months.

  • Chronic Sinusitis: Sinusitis is referred to as chronic when the symptoms last over three months. Chronic sinusitis is caused by bacteria or fungus.

  • Recurrent Sinusitis: Four episodes of sinusitis persisting for less than four weeks with complete resolution of the symptoms between the episodes.

What Is Acute Sinusitis?

Acute sinusitis refers to a short-term inflammation of the sinuses, which is most commonly caused by a cold. This is known as acute rhinosinusitis, as the swelling includes both the nasal and the sinus tissues. Most cases of acute sinusitis subside within a week to ten days unless a bacterial infection is developed. But it can also take up to three to four weeks.

Acute sinusitis is caused by the following:

  • Viruses such as rhinovirus, adenovirus, influenza virus, and parainfluenza virus.

  • Bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumonia, Haemophilus influenza, and Moraxella catarrhalis.

  • Fungi.

  • Intranasal allergies like hay fever.

  • Nasal polyps.

  • Deviated nasal septum.

  • Infected adenoids.

  • Cystic fibrosis.

  • Other nasal tumors.

  • An infected tooth can also lead to acute sinusitis.

Who Is More Likely to Develop Acute Sinusitis?

The following conditions can increase the risk of developing acute sinusitis:

  • People having allergies.

  • Tobacco smoking.

  • People with abnormalities in the nasal passage, such as a deviated nasal septum or nasal polyps.

  • People with large or inflamed adenoids.

  • Weakened immune system.

  • Cystic fibrosis.

What Causes Eye Pain in Sinus Infection?

Sinus infections are commonly caused by viruses, bacteria, or allergens. When the sinuses become congested and swollen due to infection, they can exert pressure on the surrounding areas, including the eyes, leading to pain and discomfort.

Symptoms of sinus infection eye pain include:

  • Achy or Throbbing Pain: Sinus infection-related eye pain often presents as a dull, achy sensation around the eyes or in the forehead.

  • Eye Pressure: Individuals may feel pressure behind the eyes, making it uncomfortable to move them.

  • Eye Redness: The eyes might appear red and irritated due to the inflammation in the sinuses.

  • Watery Eyes: Excessive tear production is common as a response to the irritation caused by sinusitis.

  • Sensitivity to Light: Some people with sinus infection-related eye pain might find bright lights particularly bothersome.

What Is the Difference Between Bacterial and Viral Sinus Infections?

  • Differentiating bacterial and viral sinus infections is challenging due to their similar symptoms.

  • The duration of symptoms is a key factor, as viral infections improve within seven to ten days, while bacterial infections persist for more than 10 days without relief.

  • The nature of nasal discharge provides clues: viral infections result in clear or slightly colored discharge, while bacterial infections cause thick, yellow, or green mucus.

  • Fever is more common and intense in bacterial infections, especially in children.

  • Facial pain and pressure can help distinguish; bacterial infections often cause severe discomfort around the cheeks and eyes.

  • Monitoring symptom response to treatment is vital; viral infections usually improve with rest and over-the-counter remedies, but bacterial infections may require antibiotics prescribed by a healthcare provider.

  • Consulting a healthcare professional is essential for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment if symptoms are severe, prolonged, or worsening.

What Are the Symptoms of Acute Sinusitis?

The symptoms of acute sinusitis include:

  • Nasal congestion.

  • Headache.

  • Thick yellow or greenish-coloured mucus discharges from the nose.

  • Drainage of the mucus at the back of the throat.

  • Sore throat.

  • Cough that worsens at night.

  • Pressure or tenderness behind the eyes, around the nose, and on the cheeks or forehead.

  • Facial congestion or fullness.

  • Ear pain.

  • Bad breath.

  • Toothache.

  • Reduced sense of smell and taste.

  • Tiredness.

In children, the following symptoms are seen:

  • Irritability.

  • Difficulty feeding.

  • Snoring.

  • Mouth breathing.

  • Nasal speech.

How Is Acute Sinusitis Diagnosed?

Acute sinusitis is diagnosed based on the symptoms reported by the patient and on physical examination. Certain diagnostic methods may be recommended to rule out other conditions.

Some of these include:

  • Nasal Endoscopy: In this procedure, a thin and flexible tube with a fiber-optic light is inserted through the nose, allowing the doctor to examine the inside of the sinuses.

  • Imaging Studies: Imaging studies like CT (computed tomography) show the details of the sinuses and the nasal area.

  • Allergy Skin Test: If an allergy is the cause, an allergy skin test is recommended to identify the allergen triggering the symptoms.

  • Nasal or Sinus Samples: This is the least preferred diagnostic test. This diagnostic technique is recommended only when the condition does not respond to treatment or worsens.

When to Seek the Help of the Healthcare Provider?

If the symptoms of acute sinusitis, like headache, fullness around the face, bad breath, nose block, and tooth pain, are prolonged for more than 10 days, then a medical opinion is needed.

What Is the Medication for Acute Sinusitis?

Treatment of acute sinusitis involves relieving the symptoms. Antibiotics are generally not recommended, as viruses rather than bacteria mostly cause acute sinusitis.

Acute sinusitis can be treated with the following treatment methods:

  • Saline Nasal Sprays: Saline nasal sprays are used several times daily to rinse and clean the nasal passages.

  • Decongestants: Nasal decongestants such as Pseudoephedrine can help dry up the mucus.

  • Over-the-counter Nasal Corticosteroids: Fluticasone, Budesonide, Mometasone, and Beclomethasone help treat and prevent inflammation.

  • Antihistamines: If allergy is the underlying cause of acute sinusitis, antihistamines are suggested.

  • Over-the-counter Painkillers: Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen are recommended for sinus pain.

  • Surgery: Surgery is suggested for treating the underlying cause of acute sinusitis. In conditions like nasal polyps, deviated nasal septum, or to drain or clean the sinuses.

What Is the Prognosis of Acute Sinusitis?

Acute sinusitis is usually treatable with antibiotics and decongestants, and most people feel better within a few weeks. Managing it involves staying hydrated, using humidifiers, and avoiding irritants. Following medical advice, taking prescribed medications, and preventing future episodes are important. Consulting a healthcare professional ensures effective management and a better quality of life while dealing with acute sinusitis.

What Are the Home Care Tips for Acute Sinusitis?

Individuals can adopt several home care measures to manage acute sinusitis effectively and reduce the risk of recurrent episodes:

  • Maintain a nutritious diet to bolster the immune system and aid in recovery.

  • Utilize a humidifier in dry weather to moisten the air and sinuses, easing discomfort.

  • Practice regular handwashing, especially before meals, to prevent the spread of infections.

  • Consider nasal irrigation with saline rinses, which promote sinus clearing and relieve congestion.

  • Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, which aid mucus thinning and easy drainage.

  • Ensure ample rest, allowing the body to focus on healing and regaining strength.

  • Minimize contact with individuals suffering from respiratory infections to lower the risk of exposure.

  • Refrain from smoking, as it aggravates sinus irritation and hampers the healing process.


Acute sinusitis is commonly caused by the cold, causing a blocked nose, which blocks sinus drainage. In most cases, acute sinusitis resolves with little or no treatment, but if the symptoms have not improved even after ten days or if the symptoms have worsened even after treatment, contact the healthcare professional for guidance.

Dr. Akshay. B. K.
Dr. Akshay. B. K.

Otolaryngology (E.N.T)


sinusitisacute sinusitis
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