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Sinus issues: Causes, symptoms, and treatments

Phil Day: Superintendent Pharmacist | minute read

Sinus infections are common and often occur when you’ve had a cold or flu. They typically clear up naturally after about two to three weeks, and you can use over the counter treatments to ease symptoms.

In this article, we outline what causes sinusitis (a sinus infection), what symptoms to look out for, and what treatments are available to help manage any discomfort.

What causes a sinus infection (sinusitis)?

Sinusitis occurs when an infection causes the sinuses to swell. Our sinuses are small, air-filled spaces behind the forehead and cheekbones. They help to protect the nose from bacteria and allergens by keeping it moist with mucus. When the sinuses become infected, inflammation narrows the passages and they become blocked. This can be a result of a virus like the common cold or flu spreading to the sinuses, or occasionally it can be caused by bacteria from a tooth infection. If you experience hay fever or other allergies, you may find you’re more prone to developing sinus issues as the body reacts to allergens.

Long term sinus problems (sometimes called chronic sinusitis) have been linked to smoking, facial injuries and fractures, respiratory conditions like asthma, and a weakened immune system.

What are the symptoms of sinusitis?

Sinusitis has several common symptoms, including:

  • Tenderness and discomfort around the face – mainly the forehead, eyes, and cheeks

  • Loss of smell

  • A blocked, or runny nose

  • A feeling of pressure or around the forehead, eyes, nose, and cheeks

  • Headache

  • High temperature

How can I treat sinusitis?

Usually, a short-term sinus infection will clear naturally in 2-3 weeks. The NHS recommends staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and getting lots of rest to help your body naturally overcome the infection.

There are treatments that you can use to help relieve symptoms and aid recovery. Over the counter pain relief such as ibuprofen and paracetamol can help with discomfort caused by a sinus infection. These can also help to bring down a high temperature and should be taken as per the recommended dosage detailed in the information leaflet.

Decongestant treatments can help to ease the symptoms of sinusitis by working to unblock the sinuses. It’s important if using decongestant tablets to check their ingredients as many contain pain relief so you won’t need to take ibuprofen and paracetamol as well.

Nasal sprays are another treatment that could help to reduce swelling and ease symptoms of your sinus infection. Read the patient information leaflet before use to make sure it’s a suitable treatment for you. This type of treatment should only be used for a maximum of 7 days.

Sinus rinses can help to clear out bacteria from the nasal cavity. You can purchase these or make your own using saltwater as the NHS outlines here.