September 3, 2021

7 Signs That Indicate You Have a Sinus Infection

A sinus infection occurs when the tissues lining your sinuses become inflamed, swollen, and infected. Also known as sinusitis, a sinus infection shares many of the same symptoms as the common cold and COVID-19, making it difficult for you to determine whether you should treat your condition at home or see your doctor.

Lauren Dethlefs, PA-C, a physician assistant with Healthcare Associates located in McKinney, explains, “Acute sinusitis is typically triggered by a cold or allergies and is self-limiting. The sinuses can also become infected with a bacteria leading to a bacterial sinusitis which requires medical treatment. Fungal infections can also lead to sinusitis.”

What does a sinus infection feel like, and what are the symptoms of a sinus infection? Continue reading to learn more about determining if you have a sinus infection and about effective treatments.

Top 7 Signs of Sinus Infection

1. Nasal Discharge

Nasal discharge is yellow, green, or cloudy-looking mucus that comes out of your nose and that causes you to blow your nose often. This mucus drains into your nasal passages from your infected sinuses. Other common potential causes of nasal discharge are the common cold, allergies, and the flu.

2. Postnasal Drip

Postnasal drip refers to nasal discharge draining down the back of your throat instead of out of your nose, producing a feeling of itching or tickling in the throat that makes you cough, swallow, or clear your throat constantly. Postnasal drip can also cause a sore throat and a hoarse-sounding voice.

3. Nasal Congestionwoman dealing with nasal congestion

Inflammation and swelling of the nasal passages can cause them to become narrowed, which makes it more difficult for you to breathe. Also known as a “stuffy nose,” nasal congestion can affect your senses of smell and taste and make it difficult for you to sleep comfortably throughout the night.

4. Sinus Headache

Sinus headaches are caused by the swelling and pressure associated with infected sinuses. These headaches generally present in your forehead, brow, cheeks, and around your eyes. You may also feel a throbbing sensation in these areas, as well as earaches and pain in the upper teeth and jaw.

5. Cough

Cough during a sinus infection is mainly caused by postnasal drip, often accompanied by severe throat irritation. Cough associated with a sinus infection is usually wet and persistent and may tickle your throat. You may not be able to stop your cough despite drinking liquids or lying down—the latter of which can make it worse.

6. Bad Breath

The mucus from infected sinuses that drains down the back of your throat has a foul odor that can make your breath smell unpleasant. Your saliva may also feel mucus-like and thicker than usual.

7. Fatigue

A sinus infection can make you feel fatigued due to your body working harder than usual to fight off the illness. Other factors contributing to fatigue during a sinus infection include sleep deprivation, difficulty breathing, and headache.

Sinus Infection Symptoms vs. COVID

COVID-19 shares many of the same symptoms as a sinus infection, making it difficult for you to determine whether you have a sinus infection or COVID.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by an infectious virus, while a sinus infection results from inflammation of the nasal passages. COVID-19 also has far more symptoms than a sinus infection.

man with mask with a headacheAdditional symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Body aches
  • Bluish tint to the lips and face
  • Loss of smell and/or taste that occurs without congestion
  • Pink eye, characterized by irritation, redness, and itching of the eyes; puffy eyes; eye discharge; sensitivity to light
  • Gastrointestinal upset (e.g., bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, and cramping)
  • Chest pain

COVID-19 produces a dry cough without mucus, while a sinus infection produces a wet cough with mucus. COVID-19 and a sinus infection can both cause shortness of breath, though, with a sinus infection, this symptom is usually only present in severe cases.

The pain produced by a sinus infection generally presents in your head, such as throughout your cheeks, brow, and forehead. In contrast, COVID-19 causes all-over body aches, chest pain, and a wide range of gastrointestinal problems.

“COVID-19 is a more severe form of infection. Sinusitis is typically more localized to the sinus cavities and face where COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that affects the entire upper respiratory tract. COVID infections can cause very high fevers, severe body aches, a dry cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, loss of taste and/or smell, chills, and GI upset,” Dethlefs explains the differences between the two.

Cases of acute sinusitis typically last less than four weeks, while chronic sinusitis lasts for at least 12 weeks or longer and recurs often. Symptoms of COVID-19 usually appear within two to 14 days of exposure to the virus and resolve within two weeks.

If you remain unsure whether you have a sinus infection or COVID-19, visit your doctor for a proper diagnosis.

“Sinus infections can be diagnosed based on a thorough physical exam where the sinuses are examined for inflammation. Vitals are also taken to determine temperature, pulse, blood pressure and oxygen saturation. A chest X-ray may be performed to rule out pneumonia or bronchitis if a cough is present. For chronic sinus infections more than 4 weeks, a CT scan may be ordered,” says Dethlefs.

Your doctor can perform a physical examination to examine your sinuses for inflammation and swelling and check your lungs, body temperature, heart rate, and oxygen levels to determine whether you may have COVID-19. Your doctor can also perform a COVID test and talk to you in more detail about the symptoms of a sinus infection versus COVID.

How To Treat a Sinus Infection At Home

You can effectively treat sinus infections at home with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines or one or more home remedies.

Dethlefs recommends, “Drink plenty of water, use Vick’s vapor rub on chest and bottoms of feet, rest and sleep and humidifier. One thing I like to do when my family is sick is boil water on the stove and melt Vick’s vapor rub in it. Then pour solution in ice cube trays and freeze. Add 1-2 ice cubs to bottom of shower.”

OTC medicines that may improve symptoms of a sinus infection include:woman using nasal spray

  • Nasal decongestant sprays help reduce swelling in the nasal passages to promote drainage flow from the sinuses. This sinus infection treatment should only be used for three to four days to reduce the risk of rebound congestion.
  • Nasal corticosteroid sprays help reduce swelling and inflammation in the nasal passages without causing rebound congestion.
  • Antihistamines remain particularly helpful for those whose nasal passages become inflamed and swollen due to seasonal allergies.
  • Nasal saline washes and rinses help clear mucus from the nasal passages to promote easier breathing.

Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics if OTC medicines fail to relieve your symptoms within seven to 10 days. Antibiotics are usually only prescribed as a last-resort treatment for sinus infections due to the risk of overuse, which may lead to other difficult-to-treat infections.

Home remedies for sinus infection include:

  • Drinking plenty of water, which helps flush toxins and bacteria out of your system to improve symptoms of illness.
  • Consuming antibacterial foods that help reduce inflammation, including raw honey, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and chili peppers.
  • Using essential oils such as eucalyptus, peppermint, and tea tree can help open up the sinuses and promote drainage flow.
  • Using a humidifier in the bedroom while you sleep, which can relieve night-time congestion.
  • Applying a warm compress to the face can help reduce sinus-related pain in the cheeks, jaw, and forehead.

Your doctor can also provide you with practical tips on getting rid of a sinus infection at home.

Dethlefs adds, “Most cases of sinusitis can be treated using over the counter remedies. When a bacterial infection is suspected, the patient will receive an antibiotic. Depending on degree of symptoms and inflammation, sometimes a steroid can be used via oral tab or injection. Cough medicines and decongestants can also be prescribed if over the counter medications are not working adequately.”

When It’s Time To See a Doctor

Make an appointment to see your doctor if you experience sinus infection symptoms of fever, facial pain, congestion, or nasal discharge that last longer than ten days or that keep coming back.

Dethlefs says you should see a medical provider, “If nasal drainage changes from clear to thick and yellow. If fever spikes and persists more than 24-48 hours or symptoms aren’t adequately treated with OTC therapies.”

Fever represents a rare symptom of a sinus infection, indicating you have another illness or underlying condition. Your doctor can perform an evaluation and the necessary testing to identify and treat the root cause of your symptoms.