How Serious Can a Sinus Infection Get?

More than 30 million Americans experience a sinus infection each year. They can come and go quickly or linger for months at a time. While most infections are no cause for alarm, sinus infections can become serious if not treated properly. Understanding the signs and symptoms can ensure you seek treatment when needed.

Understanding Your Sinus Infection

A box of tissues on a shelf.

A sinus infection occurs when the lining of your sinus cavity becomes irritated or inflamed and fluid builds up. This can cause a number of symptoms including:

  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Facial pain/pressure
  • Headache
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Bad breath

The most common cause of a sinus infection is a virus, but bacteria can also be to blame. The only way to know for sure is to take a swab of the inside of your nose and grow the culture. According to Dr. Raj Sindwani, “This is rarely necessary because sinusitis often goes away by itself.”

Sinusitis Treatments

Most sinus infections will resolve on their own. “If you don’t get better, we start thinking there’s a bacterial component,” Sindwani says. “That’s when we pull the trigger on an antibiotic.”

Antibiotics used to be the primary treatment for sinus infections, as many doctors thought if left untreated, a sinus infection could turn into a chronic problem. The medical community no longer thinks this way, as chronic sinus infections are usually due to underlying issues.

Serious Sinus Infections

While sinus infections are not usually any cause for alarm, they can occasionally turn into a medical emergency.

Although rare, a sinus infection can spread to the eyes or brain. If the infection reaches the eye it can cause reduced vision, swelling and even blindness. Treatment for these serious cases involve IV antibiotics and require hospital admission and a CT scan to determine if fluid needs to be drained.

If a sinus infection spreads to the brain, this can lead to meningitis or a brain abscess, both of which are life-threatening.

To learn more about how to treat your sinus infection or to schedule an appointment with a sinus expert, contact Nevada Ear + Sinus Institute today.

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