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What Happens If A Sinus Infection Is Left Untreated?

man suffering from sinusitisA sinus infection can cause a long list of annoying problems, but if left untreated, your symptoms could continue for months on end. And in rare cases, very serious complications can develop.

In this blog, the board-certified physicians at New York ENT explain more about sinus infections and what can happen if they’re left untreated.

What is a sinus infection?

A sinus infection, which is sometimes referred to as sinusitis, occurs when the tissues that line your sinuses become inflamed or swollen. They’re usually filled with air, but when they become blocked and filled with fluid, an infection can result.

This type of infection can be caused by bacteria or viruses, and in rare cases, by fungi. Although colds, allergies, and anatomical issues such as a deviated septum don’t directly cause these infections, they can create blockages that create the right conditions for germs to grow and cause an infection.

What are the different types of sinus infections?

Most sinus infections are caused by viruses, and they’ll usually go away on their own. In fact, if the infection doesn’t clear up after a week to 10 days, it can be an indication that it's caused by bacteria. It may have started as a bacterial infection, or a viral infection may develop into a bacterial infection after your sinuses become filled with fluid and bacteria then forms.

If you have sinus infections that seem to clear up only to shortly return, you probably have a bacterial infection. Thick, dark, or greenish-yellow nasal discharge is another indication, but your doctor can perform tests to verify the type of infection if needed.

Sinus infections can also be classified as acute or chronic. Acute infections usually start suddenly with symptoms such as a runny, stuffy nose and facial pain and can last up to four weeks. Chronic sinusitis occurs when your infection persists for at least 12 weeks despite attempts to treat it.

In the short term, a sinus infection can cause a long list of symptoms, including the following:

  • Congestion
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Facial pain
  • Headache
  • Bad breath
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced sense of smell or taste

What happens if a sinus infection is left untreated?

A sinus infection that goes on for weeks without treatment can make you miserable and may develop into chronic sinusitis. If your infection is allowed to linger, it could also result in some potentially serious complications. These types of issues are rare, but they do occur.

  • A sinus infection can spread to the eyes, causing redness, swelling, and reduced vision. In very severe cases, it can even cause blindness.
  • When an infection spreads to the eyes, it’s usually treated with IV antibiotics. In addition, a CT scan may be needed to see if fluid needs to be drained.
  • Sinus infections can also spread to the brain, but this is even rarer. It can lead to a brain abscess or meningitis, both of which can be life-threatening.
  • An infection that lingers, gets worse or gets better only to quickly return needs to be treated by a doctor. An antibiotic may be all that’s needed, but in some cases, other treatment may be required.

If you’re experiencing symptoms that could indicate the presence of a sinus infection, make an appointment today with New York ENT. Our ear, nose, and throat doctors and surgeons will make sure you get the treatment you need to find relief and avoid potentially serious complications.

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