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How Can I Tell If I Have a Sinus Infection?


Updated April 29, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

How Can I Tell If I Have a Sinus Infection?

The Sinuses

Photo © A.D.A.M.
Question: How Can I Tell If I Have a Sinus Infection?
The sinuses are hollow recesses in the forehead, nose and cheeks. Sometimes these cavities become infected with a virus or bacteria. This results in sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses), which can cause severe pain and cold-like symptoms.

Sinus infections are often preceded by a cold (also called upper airway infection). Symptoms include:

Diagnosing Sinus Infections

Sinus infections are not difficult to detect by most doctors. Doctors specializing in disorders of the ear, nose and throat (called ENTs) are especially able to sort out this diagnosis.

An ENT will take an in-depth look at your medical history and symptoms, and then they may use endoscopy or rhinoscopy to look into the nose. Occasionally CT scans or MRI's may be necessary, but this is not common. If possible, the doctor will try to get a culture of nasal drainage to identify the cause of the sinus infection.

Sinus Infection Treatment

When caused by a bacterial infection, sinus infections are best treated using antibiotics. If caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help a sinus infection at all. In this case, treatment is based on symptoms. It may help to place a wash rag that has been soaked in warm water or a warm compress over the sinuses. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen, can help headaches and pain. Decongestants can help with congestion and post-nasal drip. Drinking plenty of fluids and getting a lot of rest is also advised.

In extreme, complicated cases, sinus surgery may be necessary.


Medline Plus. Sinusitis. Accessed: January 12, 2010 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000647.htm

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