What is Sinusitis? Sinusitis is an inflammation of the lining of one or more of the sinuses. These are air filled cavities in the bones of the skull and face, which connect with the nose through small openings. There are four pairs of sinuses: the frontal sinuses sit above the eyes in the forehead, the maxillary sinuses lie behind the cheekbones, the sphenoid pair rests behind the nose, and the ethmoid sinuses are located between the eyes and the bridge of the nose.

Sinusitis can be caused by viral, bacterial or fungal infection, or an allergy. Inflammation produces swelling of the lining which blocks the small openings into the nose, preventing normal drainage of the sinuses. Accumulation of mucus and secretions within the cavities turn them into an ideal breeding ground for further infection. Sinusitis often occurs with or after a cold.

Sinusitis itself is not contagious, but other conditions that have caused the infection can be. The yellow/green nasal discharge may contain organisms that can infect other persons if they come into contact with the discharge.

Symptoms Pain over the infected sinuses, yellow/green nasal discharge, fever, fatigue and headache are the most common symptoms. Depending on the sinus involved, there may be swelling around the eyes, increased pain with bending, coughing and throat irritation due to a postnasal drip, or dizziness. Pain can also occur behind the eyes or around the teeth.

The time needed for the inflammation to clear up depends on what caused it. The condition will usually begin to improve within a few days . An allergic sinusitis may take longer.

What to do

  • Reduce normal activities until fever, pain and other acute symptoms have subsided.
  • Drink lots of fluids, especially water, to help loosen secretions. Three to four extra glasses of water per day is recommended.
  • Inhale steam from a vaporizer 3-4 times a day for 10 minutes each time. If a vaporizer is not available, you can fill a basin/sink with hot water, place a towel over your head and lean over the basin/sink to breathe in the moist air.
  • Another steam method is to run a hot shower and sit in a closed bathroom.
  • Blow your nose gently, rather than forcefully.
  • Warm, moist packs applied over the painful areas will give some relief. Some people have found they get better relief with cold compresses, so experiment.
  • Try using a decongestant spray such as Otrivine from the chemist, it is important for nose medication to reach the back of the nose. Clear the nose first by blowing, and then tilt the head back. A pillow placed under the shoulders helps to put the head in position. Direct the medication to the outer side of the nasal passages, as this is where the sinuses open into the nose. These sorts of medication must not be used for more than 5-7 days at a time otherwise they may cause rebound nasal congestion - your pharmacist will be able to advise.
  • Elevation of your head when lying down will give relief from the stuffy feeling.
  • Take painkillers such as paracetamol from the pharmacist.
  • Antibiotics are often of little help and are usually best avoided. (1)
Can you prevent it? It is very difficult to prevent a disease that is caused by a virus, bacteria, fungus or allergy. However, there are some things you can do to help:
  1. At the first sign of a cold, make sure to reduce nasal congestion as much as possible by following the suggestion outlined in this handout.
  2. Appropriate amounts of rest, a well-balanced diet, and exercise can help the body function at its most efficient level and maintain a general resistance to infections.
  3. Use a humidifier or vaporizer, if needed, and avoid overheating by keeping the temperature no higher then 70 deg F.
  4. Avoid contact with allergy causing agents, if you are susceptible. Smoke and environmental pollutants should also be avoided.
  5. If you swim, protect your nose from chlorine by wearing nose plugs. Avoid diving into the water as this forces water into the sinuses, which can start the inflammatory process.
  6. Avoid travelling by airplane during the acute phase. If you must fly, consult with your doctor for treatment advice.
Remember......Notify your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
  • Any fever that persists
  • Stiff neck
  • Bleeding from the nose
  • Severe headache, which does not improve after taking paracetamol
  • Vomiting
  • Red, tender, swollen areas of skin over the sinus
  • Blurred vision
  • Continued pain that disrupts sleep

Further information

This article published on
26 January 2006

Next review date 1/1/2013



Areaof the body

Eyes, ears, nose, throat

Male or female?


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