Frequently Asked Questions about Sinus Infections, Answered

Published on Apr 23, 2024 | 10:40 AM

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As discussed in The Call-On-Doc Guide to Sinus Infections, a sinus infection is an inflammation or swelling of the sinus cavities, which are air-filled spaces located in the facial bones around the nose and eyes. Also called sinusitis, the condition can lead to symptoms such as nasal congestion, facial pain or pressure, headache, postnasal drip, cough, and reduced sense of smell or taste.

Are Sinus Infections contagious?

A common misunderstanding about sinus infections is that they are contagious. While sinus infections are not contagious, the causes that lead to them can be. The condition is most often a byproduct of the body’s own making or something that infects it. Moreover, a sinus infection can spread its cause, like the flu, colds, or bacteria, through symptoms like sneezing and coughing.

What causes a sinus infection?

There are many different causes for why a sinus infection can occur, with the most common including: 

Viral Infections: Viruses such as the common cold virus or influenza virus can cause sinus infections. When these viruses infect the upper respiratory tract, they can lead to inflammation of the sinus membranes, resulting in sinusitis. This can occur through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, or close contact with infected individuals.

Bacterial Infections: Bacterial sinus infections can occur when bacteria invade the sinus cavities, often following a viral respiratory infection. Bacteria like Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, and Moraxella catarrhalis are common culprits. Bacterial sinusitis can be contagious if it develops from a viral infection that weakens the immune system, allowing bacteria to thrive and spread to others through respiratory droplets.

Allergies: Allergic reactions to environmental allergens such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or mold can trigger sinus infections in susceptible individuals. Allergies cause inflammation in the nasal passages and sinuses, leading to symptoms similar to those of sinusitis.

Environmental Irritants: Exposure to irritants like pollutants, smoke, strong odors, or chemicals can irritate the nasal passages and sinuses, causing inflammation and increasing the risk of developing a sinus infection.

Structural Abnormalities: Structural issues in the nasal passages, such as a deviated septum or nasal polyps, can obstruct the normal flow of mucus and air, leading to sinus infections. These abnormalities can create a conducive environment for bacteria or viruses to thrive and cause inflammation.

Fungal Infections: Fungal sinus infections, although less common, can occur in individuals with weakened immune systems or those exposed to fungal spores in the environment. Fungal sinusitis can develop after inhaling fungal spores or as a complication of other fungal infections.

Immune System Weakness: A weakened immune system due to factors such as chronic illness, certain medications, or medical treatments like chemotherapy can increase the susceptibility to sinus infections.

Can sinus infections cause fevers?

Yes, sinus infections can sometimes cause a mild to moderate fever, especially if the infection is bacterial. When the sinuses become infected and inflamed, the body's immune response may include an elevation in body temperature, resulting in a fever.

Can sinus infections cause tooth pain?

Yes, sinus infections can cause tooth pain, particularly in the upper teeth, as the sinuses are located close to the upper teeth and share nerve pathways. When the sinuses become inflamed or infected, the pressure and swelling can affect the surrounding tissues, including the nerves that supply sensation to the upper teeth. This can lead to a dull, aching pain in the affected teeth, often exacerbated by changes in posture (such as bending forward) or sinus congestion. 

Can sinus infections cause dizziness?

Yes, sinus infections can sometimes cause dizziness, although it is not a common symptom. The inflammation and congestion in the sinuses can affect the balance mechanisms in the inner ear, leading to a sensation of dizziness or lightheadedness. This dizziness may be mild and transient, often occurring when changing positions or during episodes of sinus pressure. However, if dizziness is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as severe headache, vision changes, or difficulty walking, it's essential to seek medical evaluation to rule out any underlying complications or conditions.

Can sinus infections cause headaches?

Yes, sinus infections can cause headaches as a common symptom. When the sinuses become inflamed or infected, the increased pressure and congestion can lead to pain and discomfort in the head, often felt as a headache. The location and type of headache can vary depending on which sinuses are affected. Frontal sinusitis can cause pain in the forehead, while maxillary sinusitis can cause pain in the cheeks or upper teeth. Sinus headaches are often described as a dull, throbbing pain that worsens with movement or changes in pressure, such as bending forward. 

Can sinus infections cause a sore throat?

Sinus infections can cause a sore throat, although it's not as common as other sinus-related symptoms. The inflammation and congestion in the sinuses can lead to postnasal drip, where mucus drips down the back of the throat. This can irritate the throat lining, causing throat discomfort, a scratchy sensation, or a sore throat. However, a sore throat from a sinus infection is often mild compared to sore throats caused by viral or bacterial infections directly affecting the throat. 

Can sinus infections cause ear pain?

Yes, sinus infections can cause ear pain, particularly in the area around the ears or deep within the ear canal. This is because the sinuses and ears are connected by a passage called the Eustachian tube. When the sinuses become inflamed or infected, this can lead to congestion and pressure changes that affect the Eustachian tube, causing ear discomfort or pain. Additionally, the inflammation can irritate the nerves surrounding the ears, leading to a sensation of ear pain. 

Will a sinus infection go away on its own?

Mild sinus infections can generally resolve on their own, often without medical treatment, after one to two weeks. However, more severe infections, often caused by bacteria or those developed by a disease, can not only last longer but may also require medical treatment. To recover more quickly, reduce the length of symptoms, and get quick relief, treatment such as antibiotics and symptom-alleviating medications can be prescribed.

What helps sinus infections?

  • Nasal Irrigation: Using a saline solution or a nasal saline spray can help flush out mucus and reduce nasal congestion, providing relief from sinus pressure and discomfort.
  • Steam Inhalation: Inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water or using a humidifier can help moisturize nasal passages, loosen mucus, and ease congestion.
  • Warm Compress: Applying a warm compress to the face can help relieve sinus pain and pressure by promoting blood circulation and reducing inflammation.
  • Over-the-Counter Medications: Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers (e.g., acetaminophen, ibuprofen) and decongestants (oral or nasal sprays) can help manage headaches and nasal congestion, but often don’t clear the infection that causes the symptoms. 
  • Nasal Corticosteroids: Prescription nasal corticosteroid sprays, such as fluticasone (Flonase) or mometasone (Nasonex), can reduce inflammation in the nasal passages and improve symptoms of sinusitis.
  • Antibiotics (if bacterial): If a sinus infection is caused by bacteria and does not improve with conservative measures, a healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection.
  • Hydration and Rest: Drinking plenty of fluids and getting adequate rest can support the immune system's ability to fight off the infection and promote faster recovery.
  • Avoiding Irritants: Avoiding exposure to environmental irritants like smoke, strong odors, and pollutants can help prevent further irritation of the sinuses.

If you or a loved one is experiencing sinus infection symptoms and need quick relief, get treated the same day with Call-On-Doc. With extended after-hour care, you can start your recovery with prescription treatment available at your pharmacy within a few hours. You can also start an express visit and get your Rx in as little as 15 minutes, all from home day, night, or weekend.

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Wayne Hahne,

English graduate and Call-On-Doc’s medical resource guide, Wayne C. Hahne is an experienced and passionate medical education content expert. Through diligent research, provider interviews and utilizing the industry's leading resources for wellness information, it is Mr. Hahne’s personal mission to educate the general public on medical conditions with in-depth and easy-to-understand written guides.

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