Acute Sinusitis

acute sinusitis-picture

Mucus can build up within the sinuses

Sinusitis is a condition that affects 15 to 40 people per year out of every thousand. Generally speaking, “sinusitis” means an infection of the sinuses, but there are several different, more specific types of sinusitis. Acute sinusitis is an infection that lasts more than 7 days but less than four weeks and can cause serious discomfort. This article addresses the symptoms, treatment options and recovery process for sufferers of acute sinusitis.


What Are The Causes Of Acute Sinusitis?

Causes of a sinus infection include:

  • The common cold
  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Deviated septum
  • Viral or bacterial infection


What Are The Symptoms Of Acute Sinusitis?

Symptoms of acute sinusitis nearly resemble those of the common cold. In fact, the common cold is frequently a cause of acute sinusitis. Symptoms of acute sinusitis include increased pressure in the sinuses, anosmia (loss of smell), worsening of nasal congestion, thick discolored nasal discharge, fatigue, development of fever, halitosis and pain in the teeth. In general, if a common cold continues to get worse, acute sinusitis is a likely diagnosis.

For a more in-depth look into the symptoms of a sinus infection click here.


What Are The Risk Factors Of Acute Sinusitis?

Risk factors of acute sinusitis are caused by preexisting conditions that can not be changed, such as:

  • An allergic condition that triggers an effect to your sinuses
  • A nasal passage abnormality, such as a nasal polyps or tumors
  • A medical condition such as cystic fibrosis or an immune system disorder


diagnosing acute sinusitis

How Is Acute Sinusitis Diagnosed?

There are several non-invasive tests that doctors can perform to diagnose an acute sinus infection. Most doctors will first perform a physical exam, which entails palpating the neck for lymph node swell and pressing on the face to look for pressure and tenderness in the sinuses. Doctors may also choose to touch or tap the patient’s teeth to test for extra sensitivity. Diagnostic procedures are also an option – these include taking mucus cultures, performing a nasal endoscopy, taking an X-Ray, CT scan, or allergy testing. An otolaryngologist, or ENT physician, is an expert in the sinus area and can perform the necessary examinations detailed above.

steam inhalations for sinus

Steam Inhalation


What Are The Treatment Options For Acute Sinusitis?

Because acute sinusitis lasts less than a month, treatment options are relatively uncomplicated. Doctors may advise patients to purchase Sudafed or another similar decongestant. Steam inhalation may be helpful, depending on the severity of the sinus infection. Ironically, use of Afrin (oxymetazoline) can actually worsen congestion after using for several days, so it is only recommended for up to three days at a time. Short-term antibiotics may also be prescribed, though the prescription will usually not last more than two weeks. Recurrent acute sinusitis occurs when a patient suffers several acute sinusitis attacks over the course of one year or longer.


When Does Acute Sinusitis Become Chronic Sinusitis?

If, after three months, the symptoms of acute sinusitis do not go away, the diagnoses become chronic sinusitis. When a doctor diagnoses chronic sinusitis, more invasive treatment options may be necessary. The main treatment of chronic sinusitis is decreasing inflammation to reduce symptom severity. This includes decongestants, sinus rinses,  and nasal and oral steroids. There are currently no antibiotics that are approved or that are effective for chronic sinusitis.

drinking fluids

Lead a healthy lifestyle


How Can Acute Sinusitis Be Prevented?

The best way to prevent acute sinusitis is to stay away from anything that could irritate, infect or inflame the sinuses. Smokers are at an increased risk for both acute and chronic sinusitis. While there are no special foods that prevent acute sinusitis, leading a generally healthy lifestyle can be an excellent preventive measure, and drinking extra fluids can help dilute mucus in the sinuses.

In most cases, acute sinusitis will resolve on its own or with medical treatment. In some cases, when acute sinusitis goes untreated, very serious, albeit rare, conditions can develop. Untreated sinusitis can lead to meningitis, abscesses in the brain and orbital infections. To learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options for acute sinusitis, click here.

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Meet Dr. Garrett Bennett

Dr. Bennett is a New York City sinus surgery and rhinoplasty specialist. He is double board-certified with board certifications in Otolaryngology by the American Board of Otolaryngology, and Facial Plastic Surgery by the American Board of Facial and Reconstructive Surgery. He operates and has privileges at Lenox Hill Hospital, a signature acute care facility part of the Northwell Health System, and Gramercy Medical Center located in Manhattan, New York. Learn More »