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Sinus Infections

Nearly Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Chronic Sinusitis Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Go to Source 29 million adults in the United States are diagnosed with sinus infections every year. While many people who suffer from limited sinus infections can find relief through over-the-counter remedies, longer-lasting or chronic sinus infections and certain sinus conditions should be addressed by a Board-Certified Otolaryngologist (ENT). More challenging conditions should be managed by a fellowship-trained Rhinologist with additional expertise in sinus and nasal conditions such as Dr. Shawn Allen, who serves patients from Houston, The Woodlands, and surrounding communities.

Man blowing nose in bed

What is a Sinus Infection?

There are four pairs of air-filled sinus cavities in the head, including the frontal sinuses in the forehead, the ethmoid sinuses between the eyes, the sphenoid sinuses behind the ethmoids, and the maxillary sinuses in your cheeks. They produce a thin layer of mucus that constantly flows out of each sinus and through the nasal cavities to help clear bacteria and debris such as pollen. Allergies, colds, and other infections can cause the membranes in the sinus to become inflamed, slowing the natural flow of mucus while allowing bacteria and other germs to thrive. Mucous trapped within the sinuses over a longer period of time thickens and in severe cases may calcify, resulting in debris that may only clear with appropriate surgical intervention.
Sinus infection graphic

Sinus Infection Causes

Sinus infections are a very common affliction, but some people may be at a higher risk for developing sinusitis than others.

Sinus infection risk factors include:

  • Seasonal or year-round allergies
  • Repeated exposures to upper respiratory viruses, mold, etc.
  • Asthma
  • Weakened immune system
  • Nasal polyps
  • Narrowing of the sinus openings
  • Nasal obstruction
  • Deviated septum
  • Other anatomical factors such as enlarged middle turbinates
  • Sensitivity to aspirin, ibuprofen, and other NSAID medications
Woman holding her sinuses in pain

Symptoms of a Sinus Infection

Symptoms of sinusitis may include:

  • Discolored (green, yellow, white) nasal discharge
  • Postnasal drip
  • Congestion or stuffy nose
  • Decreased sense of smell
  • Headaches
  • Facial pain or pressure
  • Ear pain
  • Tooth pain
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Foul smell from inside of the nose
  • Bad breath
  • Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Sinus Infection (Sinusitis) Cleveland Clinic Go to Source Fever (rarely seen with sinus infections)

Take Our Sinus Quiz

Diagram of girl with sinus infection

Types of Sinusitis

Sinusitis is classified by the longevity of a patient’s symptoms.

In patients with chronic sinusitis, symptoms may feel like they “come and go.” That is, symptoms may briefly respond to medications but never fully clear and eventually worsen over time.

Woman smelling fresh roses in vase

Sinus Infection Treatment

Most cases of acute sinusitis can be treated at home and resolve within 1 to 2 weeks. Patients usually achieve relief from their sinusitis symptoms by staying hydrated and using:

  • Decongestants and over-the-counter cold medications
  • Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen

  • Antihistamines
  • Nasal saline irrigation with a neti pot, sinus rinse kit, or nasal spray
  • Nasal sprays such as Flonase
  • A humidifier
  • A warm compress

In cases where sinus infection symptoms last longer than a week, prescription medications may be necessary. Prescriptions to treat sinusitis may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Steroids
  • Nasal Steroid sprays
  • Immunotherapy (allergy shots or drops)
  • Medicated nasal irrigations
  • Biologics (ex. Dupixent)

Surgery for Chronic Sinus Infections

For patients whose chronic sinusitis is not responsive to medications, surgery may be performed to improve sinus drainage, clear debris from the sinuses, or to address anatomical defects such as nasal polyps (benign growths) or a deviated septum. Surgical procedures performed by Dr. Allen to treat chronic sinus infections include:

Endoscopic Sinus Surgery

Endoscopic sinus surgery is performed through the nostrils and involves enlarging the openings to the sinuses, clearing debris or polyps where necessary, and allowing access for topical medications within the sinuses when needed for long-term management of chronic sinusitis.

Learn More About Endoscopic Sinus Surgery

In-Office Balloon Sinuplasty

In-office balloon sinuplasty or balloon sinus dilation is a minimally invasive, in-office procedure designed to gently enlarge the openings of the frontal, maxillary, and sphenoid sinuses while allowing them to be rinsed and cleared of debris. It may be performed under sedation or awake, and might be combined with procedures to enhance nasal breathing depending upon the goals of treatment.

Learn More About Balloon Sinuplasty


Septoplasty is performed when a deviated septum is contributing to chronic sinus infections or impairing nasal breathing. The septum is a structure formed of bone and cartilage that divides the two nasal passages. When the septum is deviated (crooked), it can impede nasal breathing, reduce drainage, and increase the risk of sinus infections.

Learn More About Septoplasty

Inferior Turbinate Reduction

Turbinates are structures inside the nasal passages that cleanse and humidify air while breathing through the nose. Irritation, infection, allergies, or decongestant abuse can cause the turbinates to become enlarged leading to progressively worsening congestion and nasal obstruction. Inferior turbinate reduction (turbinoplasty) helps improve airflow through the nose significantly.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sinus Infections

How do I know if I have a sinus infection, a cold, or allergies?

Sinus infections, colds, and allergies often coincide and may share many symptoms, including nasal congestion, post nasal drip, and a runny nose. A common cold often begins with minor symptoms that worsen quickly and then gradually resolve over about one week. Viruses often trigger fevers, body aches, chills, and other symptoms throughout the body in addition to their associated congestion and drainage. Mucus is often clear during a viral illness, but over time may become thicker and discolored as the flow of mucus is impaired from the sinuses and nasal cavities. Colds can lead to sinus infections, which often take off with worsening symptoms just as the initial cold symptoms were improving. Sinus infections generally last longer than colds, and often carry additional symptoms such as localizing pressure or pain in the forehead, cheeks, between or behind the eyes, persisting and worsening nasal congestion, and drainage on one or both sides of the nose that appears increasingly like infection (thick, yellow/green/white mucus).

When should I see a doctor for my sinus infection?

Acute sinusitis rarely requires medical attention, and patients can usually find symptomatic relief through over-the-counter remedies such as decongestants, nasal sprays, and nasal saline irrigations. However, you should contact an experienced sinus specialist if:

  • Your symptoms last longer than a week
  • Your symptoms seem to improve, but then worsen
  • You have a persistent fever
  • Your sense of smell remains dull
  • Your nose remains congested
  • You have a history of chronic sinusitis

In some cases, sinusitis leads to a more serious infection involving the eyes or the brain. If you encounter any of the following symptoms, you should contact a doctor or seek evaluation in an emergency department immediately:

  • High fever
  • Pain, redness, or swelling around the eyes
  • Confusion
  • Changes to vision, including double vision
  • Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Acute Sinusitis Mayo Clinic Go to Source Stiff neck

How is a sinus infection diagnosed?

Sinus infection diagnosis begins with a review of the patient’s symptoms and a CT scan of the sinuses, which may be available in the office during your visit or might require a visit to an imaging facility. In certain cases an endoscopic examination of the nose and sinus openings might be needed for further clarification, particularly when evaluating for nasal polyps, nosebleeds, or lesions that might require further biopsy and workup. Cultures are obtained from inside of the nose in specific situations, but are not needed in the routine management of sinusitis.

Shawn Allen, ENT

Contact Sinus Specialist Dr. Shawn Allen

If you suffer from chronic sinusitis, consulting with a Board-Certified Otolaryngologist (ENT) with additional fellowship training and expertise as a sinus specialist is the best way to get proper treatment and find lasting relief. If you live in Houston, The Woodlands, or surrounding areas in Texas, Dr. Shawn Allen can help you find relief from chronic sinus infection symptoms by offering the most appropriate and up to date sinus treatments available. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Allen, please contact us today.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Sinusitis. Available: Accessed December 13, 2022.

2 American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Sinus Infection. Available: Accessed December 13, 2022.

3 Cleveland Clinic. Sinus Infection (Sinusitis). Available: Accessed December 13, 2022.

4 University of Michigan Medicine. Frequently Asked Questions: Nose and Sinus Disorders. Available: Accessed December 13, 2022.

5 Mayo Clinic. Acute Sinusitis. Available: Accessed December 13, 2022.

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Dr. Shawn Allen has either authored or reviewed and approved this content.

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