About Sinus Infections (Sinusitis)

You know the feeling: runny nose, headache, sinus congestion. Is it just a cold? Or something more serious? If it’s a sinus infection, that’s a more serious condition.

Definition

Your sinuses are bony, air-filled cavities inside your face and skull. A sinus infection, also called rhinosinusitis or sinusitis, is an inflammation of the soft tissues that line the sinuses.

There are two kinds of sinusitis: a short-term or acute sinus infection which can occur after a cold, an allergy attack, or from pollutants in the environment; and a long-term or chronic sinus infection that lasts longer than 12 weeks.

Causes

Causes of sinusitis may be classified under the following:

  • Anatomical causes – such as a deviated septum or enlarged turbinates in your nose
  • Lifestyle choices – including pregnancy, working with children, and smoking
  • Inflammatory and infectious causes – related to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, as well as allergies and polyps
  • Developmental disorders – like cystic fibrosis
  • Tumours in the nose and sinuses – these can block critical drainage pathways

Symptoms

Sinus congestion, discharge, and pressure with facial pain or headaches could mean you have a cold. But if the discharge from your nose is yellow or discoloured you may have a sinus infection. 

Chronic sinus infections can affect your quality of life and make you constantly tired. If you have asthma, sinus infections may make it worse.

Risk Factors

The following factors may increase your risk of a sinus infection:

  • Swimming in polluted water exposes your sinuses to bacteria
  • Frequent contact with young children exposes you to a greater number of colds or bacterial infections
  • Smoking or secondhand smoke thickens the tissue in your nose, slows down the flow of mucus, and allows bacteria to grow

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. He or she may tap areas of your face to find out if any sinus openings are tender. Sometimes a CT exam is useful as well.

If your symptoms don’t go away with the treatment your family doctor provides, you may be referred to a doctor called an Otolaryngologist. This Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist will use a nasal endoscope to look inside your nose for blockage. An endoscope is a very thin instrument with a light at the end of it, like a tiny telescope.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 27 Sep 2010

Section Navigation

Additional information

Contact Us

Medtronic Australasia Pty Ltd
Medtronic
97 Waterloo Road
North Ryde NSW 2113
PO Box 945
North Ryde NSW 1670
work 1800 668 670 (Toll Free)
work +61 (0)2 9857 9000
Australasia