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Sinusitis and sinus pain

Man with sinusitis nose pain holding his nose with his hands
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What is sinusitis?

Sinusitis, also known as a sinus infection, is when the lining of your sinuses becomes swollen and inflamed. Your sinuses are air-filled spaces that are found behind the bones around your face, especially your cheeks, forehead and nose. The inflammation experienced during a sinusitis is caused by a viral or bacterial infection that stops the mucus, produced in your sinuses, from draining into your nose and throat via small channels. These channels close up and the mucus stays in your sinuses, causes them to become blocked, which leaves you feeling congested, stuffy and in pain.

What are the symptoms of sinusitis?

Sinusitis symptoms are very similar to that of common cold or flu, and you may even develop the condition after a cold. The area where you feel pressure and pain will depend upon which sinuses have been affected, for example you may feel more pain behind your eyes or in your forehead.

Sinus infection symptoms include:

  • A blocked or stuffy nose
  • Green or yellow mucus that drips from your nose down the back of your throat
  • Toothache
  • Headache
  • Reduced sense of smell
  • A high temperature (38C or higher)
  • Bad breath
  • Pain or tenderness around your eyes, forehead or cheeks
  • Tiredness
  • A shooting pain in your nose and forehead when you tilt your head

Young children who have sinusitis may become irritable, find it difficult to feed and breathe through their mouth. Your child may also have a cough and a stuffy nose that makes their voice sound more nasal than usual.

How long does sinusitis last?

Sinusitis tends to last between two to three weeks*, and the infection usually clears on its own or with the use of over the counter medication. However if your symptoms are severe, getting worse or haven’t improved after 10 days then you should see your GP. If you also experience frequent episodes of sinusitis, your GP will be able to offer treatment advice, as well as diagnose the condition.

How do you get rid of a sinus infection?

Sinusitis can clear on its own without treatment; however you may want to use medication to ease your symptoms or try some home remedies as a method of sinus pain relief. You can use painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen to help reduce the swelling in your sinuses and relieve symptoms such as a sinus headache and sinus pain. You can also use aspirin; however children under the age of 16 should not be given aspirin.

You can also buy decongestants such as olbas oil or vapour rubs from your local pharmacy, these can give relief from blocked noses, helping to clear your airways to make breathing easier. Brands like Sudafed has formulated an array of products that specifically target the symptoms of sinusitis, including headaches, pain around the eyes and congestion.

How do you get rid of a sinus infection naturally?

If you’re wondering how you can clear your sinuses without the use of medication, then there are remedies that you can try. As with common colds and infections, you should get plenty of rest and make sure that you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. You can also try to soothe the swelling and open your sinuses by holding a clean and warm flannel over your face. Make sure that you use clean water to dampen the flannel and then hold the flannel over your face for a few minutes; you can do this as many times as day as you need.

Inhaling steam can also help to clear your sinuses, although children should not do this as they can be at risk of being scalded by the hot steam.

  1. You can either fill a bowl or your sink with hot water
  2. Then you’ll need to hold your head above the water.
  3. Taking deep breaths breathe in the steam.

If you want to intensify the experience you can drape a towel around your head that also covers the edge of the bowl or sink, this will help to trap in the steam.

Another way to fight the infection and ease the congestion is to clean your nose with a solution of salt and water:

  1. To make the solution you’ll need to mix a pint of boiled water that has been left to cool with a teaspoon of salt.
  2. Before you touch your nose it’s important that you wash your hands, this will stop the spread of bacteria and infection.
  3. Pour a small amount of the salt water into your hand (you might not use all of it), and sniff the water into one nostril and then into the other.
  4. You can repeat this until your nose feels less blocked and uncomfortable; however you’ll need to use a fresh solution every day that you use this method.

What happens if you let a sinus infection go untreated?

Sinusitis tends to go away on its own, however if your symptoms have not cleared in one week you should see your GP. They’ll also be able to help if your symptoms worsen or are exceptionally severe.

Can a sinus infection go away on its own?

Yes, sinusitis usually clears up on its own within three weeks, although you can use medication bought in your local pharmacy to help treat and ease your symptoms.

Is a sinus infection contagious to others?

Yes, but only if your sinus infection has been caused by a virus. Potentially you can pass this virus onto someone, which may cause them to develop a cold, which in turn can develop into sinusitis. However if your sinus infection hasn’t be caused by a virus but bacteria instead then it's not contagious.