Sinusitis (also known as rhinosinusitis) is a common condition where fluid builds up in the air-filled cavities within the face. The build-up of fluid causes inflammation and encourages germs to grow. Common symptoms of sinusitis can be facial pain or pressure behind the cheekbones, a blocked nose and loss of sense of smell. You may also get a sore throat and cough.
Sinusitis is most commonly caused by viral infections, and only a small proportion of infections are bacterial. Other than infections, causes include allergies, smoking, and – for the more adventurous among you – climbing at altitude.
Because the most common causes are viral, the condition normally improves or resolves by itself within two to three weeks. Viruses don't respond to antibiotics, so they don't usually have a role in treating sinusitis.
Simple steps can help you back to recovery. Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen are a good place to start. You can also try saline rinses or sprays to clear the nose of mucus and remove other debris, or steam inhalation.
Steroid nasal sprays can help to reduce irritation and inflammation in the nasal passages and sinuses. Steroid nasal sprays don’t work immediately, they can take one to two weeks to work, so best to be patient. Decongestant sprays or tablets can help alleviate congestion.
Avoid flying if possible as the pressure changes cause worsening of symptoms while you're sinuses are congested. Quitting smoking will help heal your sinuses, if this applies to you and is a good incentive.
If you have had symptoms for more than two to three weeks then it would be worth speaking to your doctor. You should also speak to your doctor if you have severe symptoms such as high fever, or severe pain, or you are not clear of the cause of your symptoms.
These symptoms fit more with bacterial sinus infection: one-sided facial pain or tenderness especially over your teeth or jaw, yellow-green mucus coming from your nose, and symptoms lasting for more than two to three weeks. Your doctor may consider prescribing antibiotics if they feel it is more likely to be bacterial than viral, and symptoms are not improving. Bacterial sinusitis also often resolves on its own but it can take a lot longer than two to three weeks. Sometimes antibiotics are required to treat it.
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