During this time of year, it can be difficult to know whether your sniffles are caused by allergies, a cold or something else. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates that 31 million Americans are diagnosed with sinus infections each year. Understanding the signs of a sinus infection, including how long it can last, is key for seeking proper treatment.
What Is a Sinus Infection?
A sinus infection, also called sinusitis, is a condition that causes inflammation of the sinuses – small air-filled pockets behind the cheeks, nose and eyes. Each pocket is lined with a mucus membrane that helps keep the sinuses healthy; this is the part that becomes inflamed during an infection.
Another type of sinus infection, called rhinosinusitis, occurs when the lining of the nasal cavity, in addition to the lining of the sinuses, becomes inflamed.
Sinus infections are typically caused by another condition that blocks the sinuses, like allergies or a viral infection (cold or flu).
What Are the Symptoms of a Sinus Infection?
Common symptoms of a sinus infection include:
- Nasal congestion
- Excess mucus
- Postnasal drip
- Facial pain/pressure
- Decreased smell/taste
More rarely, symptoms can include:
- Ear pain
- Tooth pain
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
Some people believe that the color of the mucus can indicate whether a condition is bacterial or viral, but this is a myth. The green-yellow color of mucus during an illness is a byproduct of white blood cells, which fight infections of all kinds.
How Long Do Sinus Infections Last?
There are two different types of sinus infection: acute and chronic. Acute sinusitis lasts less than four weeks, while chronic sinusitis lasts more than 12. Acute sinusitis tends to be associated with a respiratory infection, while chronic sinusitis can be caused by environmental factors such as allergies and smoking.
“Typically acute sinusitis resolves by 10 days, but if not, then the possibility of a bacterial infection should be considered,” says Dr. Chen. “Getting one or two sinus infections a year is considered normal. More than four should prompt a visit to an ear, nose, and throat surgeon,” explained Dr. Chen, M.D., otolaryngologist at UT Health San Antonio in an interview.
For more information about sinus infections or to schedule an appointment with an expert ENT physician, call Nevada Ear + Sinus Institute today.