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How Long Can A Sinus Infection Last? – 5 Facts To Know

To know how long can a sinus infection last and the causes of sinus infections, it is important to know about sinusitis 1in detail. Sinus infection is a prevalent disease known to people across the globe. On average, in India, the cases of sinus infection registered are around 10 million cases per year. The condition could be acute sinusitis or chronic sinusitis, depending on the varying symptoms. Let’s have a look at how the duration of sinus infections varies from person to person based on the type of condition.

How Long Can A Sinus Infection Last
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The inflammation, or swelling, of the tissue lining the sinuses or nasal passages, is termed sinusitis. The hollow spaces within the bones midway through your eyes, behind your cheekbones, and on your forehead are called sinuses. The production of mucus is carried out by sinuses, which keep the interior of your nose damp. The mucus is to help protect you against dust, allergens, and pollutants.

1. What is Sinusitis?

For sinuses to be healthy, the spaces must be filled with air. In case of an infection, the spaces are blocked by fluids, which can lead to the growth of germs. Several conditions can result in the blockage of these spaces, such as a common cold, allergic rhinitis, nasal polyps, and a deviated septum.

In case you have sinusitis, a doctor might use the terms acute sinus or chronic sinus. These are two different types of sinus infections. As the name suggests, the acute lasts for a short period whereas the chronic stays for a longer time.

Many people can be diagnosed with sinusitis, irrespective of the age factor. For adults, the reasons usually are inflammation of the interior of the nose, drainage duct blockage, structural abnormalities, or nasal polyps. In children, the reasons are allergies, infection from others, or the presence of smoke in their surroundings.

2. An Insight Into Its Symptoms

symptoms of sinus
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Multiple symptoms can help characterize a sinus infection. Some symptoms last for a few days while some tend to continue for more than 12 days or so, and thus the duration of sinus infections is based on how long the symptoms last. The severity of symptoms helps characterize the type of condition that could be acute, chronic, subacute, or any recurrent form.

A wide range of symptoms seem to appear when the sinuses are impaired, that is they either become inflated or infected. The duration and graveness of the symptoms mostly depend on the underlying cause. Some usual symptoms are:

Nasal congestion is one of the most common symptoms, and can also be said to be a trait of the condition. Nasal congestion occurs when the tissues interlining the sinuses inflate and block the nasal openings. 

There are situations when the discomfort caused due to pain and soreness in the sinuses gets worse, and affects areas such as the forehead, cheeks, and over the eyes. The ache becomes intense while you lie down or bend.

Another significant sign of being diagnosed with sinus is, thick and pale nasal discharge, also called mucus. The mucus is likely to exude down the back of the throat, which is also termed postnasal drip, further causing a sore throat or cough.

The sensitivity can affect the olfactory nerve, which plays an important role in the sense of smell. This can reduce your capacity to smell and taste food.

When sinus drainage goes down the throat it can induce a constant cough, that usually occurs at night. The discomfort and swelling in the sinuses can result in headaches, particularly around the forehead and behind the eyes.

Long-term or chronic forms of sinusitis may cause persistent fatigue and a general feeling of discomfort due to ongoing inflammation and soreness. Mucus accretion and the growth of bacteria result in bad breath.

In case of an infection caused by bacteria, fever is likely to develop, as the body’s immune system responds to the infection. Swelling in the upper sinuses can reach the teeth and be a reason for dental pain.

Several other conditions can also be characterized by the symptoms aforementioned, such as colds or allergies. When the symptoms get worse, or are accompanied by high fever, severe headache, or other serious signs, you should visit a doctor to address and manage the underlying causes. It is necessary to seek medical attention to know the appropriate treatment required.

3. Causes

Sinus is a common medical condition and there are several underlying causes for it. These causes can be classified as physical, environmental, bacteria, fungal, and so on. The sinuses can inflate as a result of various factors and conditions that act as an obstruction to the normal working of the sinus cavities. These causes include:

Various infections caused by viruses, like the common cold, can be responsible for sinusitis. When the nasal passages are blocked, bacteria growth can lead to sinusitis, as proper drainage becomes a problem. Inflammation and mucus accumulation can be induced due to these infections.

Many of you can be allergic to allergens, like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or certain foods which result in the nasal passages becoming sore, causing a sinus infection. The inflammation lasts longer as allergens 2cause frequent issues in proper drainage.

Several growths that are non-cancerous can arise in the nasal passages or sinuses and elevate the risk of developing sinusitis by blocking normal airflow and smooth drainage.

Sometimes, structural abnormalities, like a deviated septum, or a twisted or distorted wall between the nostrils, can obstruct sinus drainage and result in chronic sinusitis.

Environmental factors like being exposed to pollutants, smoke, chemicals, and other hassles can bother the nasal cavity and lead to swelling and inflammation, making you prone to sinusitis.

If your body has preexisting conditions like HIV, cystic fibrosis, and other immune system-related disorders, recurrent or severe sinusitis is more likely to develop. If the acid from the stomach spews up into the throat it can lead to discomfort of the upper airway and result in a sinus infection.

Additionally, infections in the teeth can also pose a risk of developing sinusitis, particularly if the upper side of the dental cavity is affected. Diseases such as bronchitis or pneumonia, which mainly affect the respiratory tract, can also lead to sinusitis, in case the infection is passed to the sinuses.

4. Diagnosis

diagnosis
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The diagnosis of this infection can be done using multiple processes, the most usual one being physical evaluation and studying the symptoms. However, if these symptoms do not improve over time, a CT scan or an X-ray is advisable for proper treatment. A sample of the sinus fluid can also be collected to examine under the microscope and grow to determine the organism causing the infection. Not everyone suffering from sinusitis has to go under medical treatment, but early detection and management play a role in making you feel better and also stopping the infection from advancing.

Before visiting a medical professional you can always check your symptoms on your own so that this information is helpful during a medical checkup, in case your symptoms last longer. Here are some ways you can pay attention to symptoms your body is showing.

The common cold is a viral infection that generally occurs in people irrespective of age factor and can also lead to sinusitis in severe cases. A mere cold takes about a week to get better and that is the same for infants, children, and adults. The viruses that cause cold can involve the sinuses, leading to creating problems in smooth mucus drainage, and resulting in nasal congestion, and sinus pressure. These symptoms stay for at most 10 days and improve on their own.

However, if they do not improve or improve and get worse later, there are chances of a bacterial infection. A continual high fever, discoloured discharge from only one nostril, and intense pain on just one of the sides are some other factors that can help characterize a bacterial infection. It is advisable to make an appointment with a doctor and get laboratory and imaging tests done.

The condition is deemed to be severe if there are changes in your vision, swelling around the forehead and eyes, serious headaches, and confusion. It is best to get medical help immediately, as these are serious signs of bacterial infection spreading.

Apart from self-check, there are some other methods for diagnosing a sinus infection as well. If you have been diagnosed with sinus more than four times a year, your doctor might look into the causes that are increasing the risk. The risk factors can be anything, most commonly, could be a history of allergies, asthma, or any other condition that might be weakening your immune system

A physical examination comprises your doctor checking the interior of your nose using a speculum and flashlight. This procedure is carried out to note the areas of pain, soreness, and pus-filled drainage inside the nose or throat. It can also determine a deviated septum, foreign particles, nasal bleeds, polyps, or tumours.

Other than physical examination, a few doctors might also suggest laboratory tests or imaging procedures. It is not very usual to carry out tests, however, in severe cases, it might be necessary. Tests include culturing the nasal drainage of the sinus to identify the causing agent, blood tests to test for the erythrocyte sedimentation rate, CBC, and C-reactive protein, and testing for allergies in case of chronic or recurring sinusitis.

If you are diagnosed with acute sinusitis, an imaging technique might not be done, however, in case of a chronic case, or where the symptoms grow severe, it is advisable to opt for imaging procedures. An X-ray can help identify polyps or fluid in the sinuses. A CT scan gives a more detailed view of the sinuses and hence is preferable as compared to an MRI.

5. What is Rhinoscopy?

rhinoscopy
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To examine the structures inside your nose and nasal passages, or to obtain a sample of fluid for culturing, it is always preferred to be done by an ENT specialist. Most cultures are done with endoscopy. 

Rhinoscopy is another such endoscopy that is used for a thorough examination of the interior of the nose. The nasal endoscope is a thin pipe inserted inside the nose to have a detailed view of the nasal passages and sinuses. The tube contains a light, fiber optic cable3, and lens for observing and is often attached to a video camera, to view the images on screen and note the entire examination.

Before a rhinoscopy is carried out, a doctor will give you a nasal decongestant spray and an anaesthetic spray to numb the nose and make the procedure a smooth one. This evaluation helps identify structural damages, nasal polyps, tumours, and pus. 

6. How Long Does a Sinus Infection Last?

The duration of sinus infections primarily depends on the underlying causes and duration of symptoms. While some symptoms occur temporarily, several others last longer and may worsen over time. The duration depends on the type of infection, which could be either acute or chronic.

6.1. Acute Sinusitis

acute sinusitis
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A short-term sinus infection is said to be acute sinusitis. The symptoms of acute sinusitis do not last for more than 10 days and usually go away without medical intervention. Self-care is enough to manage the symptoms of acute sinus infection.

Symptoms that characterize an acute sinus infection are blocked or stuffy nose, fever, bad breath, pain around the face, head, or eyes, loss of smell and taste, fatigue, headache, and toothache.

The sinuses are hollow spaces behind the nose, cheekbones, and forehead and are responsible for producing mucus that keeps the interior of the nose damp. The nasal drainage also flushes out the bacteria and viruses that might have entered the nose with air.

When the bacteria and virus settle in those hollow spaces, it leads to sinusitis, making their tissues bloat. The mucus produced, finding no way to flow out due to the swollen tissues, gets trapped inside the nose and causes a blocked or stuffy nose. A clogged-up nose can result in developing sinus headaches.

Some people are more susceptible to sinus than the general population, particularly people with a history of allergies4, and structural abnormalities, such as a deviated septum or nasal polyps

To prevent a sinus infection, you can use a nasal spray to remove congestion5, keep a humidifier along with you, take a warm bath, keep yourself hydrated, drink fluids like tea, and make sure to rest enough.

6.2. Chronic Sinusitis

chronic sinusitis
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When the spaces between your head and nose remain inflamed and swollen for three months or more, despite treatment, the condition is termed chronic sinusitis. This condition intervenes with the normal drainage of mucus and clogs your nose. 

The causes of chronic sinusitis6 can be an infection, growth in the sinuses like nasal polyps, or inflation of the lining of your sinuses. This condition can affect both children and adults. 

The signs that are common during chronic sinusitis are thick and discoloured nasal discharge, drainage down the throat, congested nose, swelling around the eyes, nose, and forehead, diminished sense of smell and taste, sore throat, bad breath, earache and severe headache.

Although the symptoms are common for both acute and chronic infections, in the case of a chronic infection the symptoms last longer and do not improve with treatment. Fever is common in acute sinusitis, but doesn’t occur that often in chronic sinusitis.

It is advisable to see a doctor in case your symptoms last more than 10 days and do not respond to any kind of treatment. Severe cases are characterized by swelling around the eyes, fever, forehead swelling, vision impairment or dual vision, and confusion. 

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  1. Psillas, George, et al. “Odontogenic maxillary sinusitis: A comprehensive review.” Journal of dental sciences 16.1 (2021): 474-481. ↩︎
  2. Costa, Joana, et al. “Are physicochemical properties shaping the allergenic potency of animal allergens?.” Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology 62.1 (2022): 1-36. ↩︎
  3. Zhan, Zhongwen. “Distributed acoustic sensing turns fiber‐optic cables into sensitive seismic antennas.” Seismological Research Letters 91.1 (2020): 1-15. ↩︎
  4. Giannetti, Arianna, et al. “Cow’s milk protein allergy as a model of food allergies.” Nutrients 13.5 (2021): 1525. ↩︎
  5. Afrin, Tanzina, and Nita Yodo. “A survey of road traffic congestion measures towards a sustainable and resilient transportation system.” Sustainability 12.11 (2020): 4660. ↩︎
  6. Bachert, Claus, et al. “Adult chronic rhinosinusitis.” Nature reviews Disease primers 6.1 (2020): 86. ↩︎

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  1. After I read the article about sinus infections, I feel for others going through this. The article explains well how long these infections can last and gives helpful info. As a patient, it’s good to know why they last and what might help. This helps us handle sinus infections better, being patient and making smart choices.

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