How Long Do Sinus Infections Last?

man suffering from sinus pain About 35 million Americans have at least one bout with a sinus infection (sinusitis) each year, with some suffering from symptoms for months – or even years.

In this blog, the board-certified ear, nose, and throat doctors at New York ENT explain how long your sinus infection systems are likely to last.

What is a sinus infection?

A sinus infection (sinusitis) is inflammation and swelling in the lining of your sinus cavities, which are normally filled with air. This makes the mucus that normally drains harmlessly out of your nasal passages to instead get blocked up, which can create an environment that’s easy for germs to grow in.

Sinus infections can be caused by viruses, which is the most common type. They can also be caused by bacteria in a secondary infection that occurs after a viral infection causes mucus to build up and germs to grow.

What are the two types of sinus infection?

Sinusitis can be classified as acute or chronic.

Acute infections occur suddenly and are usually caused by the common cold. Unless a secondary bacterial infection develops, acute sinus infections don’t usually last beyond a week to 10 days, with the worst cases resolving in about four weeks.

Chronic sinusitis, on the other hand, lasts for at least 12 weeks despite attempts to treat it. It can even linger for years, sometimes seeming to improve only to recur again. It can be caused by an infection, allergies, or by an underlying problem in your nose or sinuses, such as nasal polyps (non-cancerous growths) or a deviated septum (a very crooked or off-center wall that separates your nose into two nostrils).

The symptoms of these two types of infections are very similar and can include the following:

  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Green or yellow discharge from the nose
  • Postnasal drip (the feeling of mucus running down the back of your throat)
  • Thick, colored mucus
  • Headaches
  • Facial pain

How long will a sinus infection typically last?

The duration of sinusitis can vary from a week to years, depending on whether you have acute or chronic sinusitis. Often a viral infection can progress so that it becomes a bacterial infection, extending the amount of time it lasts.

Effective, early treatment can help improve the chances that your sinus infection will be shorter-lasting.

What are the treatment options for sinus infections?

Acute viral infections can often be treated at home by using the following remedies:

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Breathe in warm, moist air from a hot shower
  • Use saline drops and sprays to moisten the nasal passages
  • Use saline nasal washes to clean out and help keep your nasal passages open
  • Use over-the-counter medications

If your symptoms persist, you’ll need to receive treatment from a doctor. The following are some types of treatment that may be used:

  • Prescription medications – such as decongestants, which can help dry your nasal cavity. They should be used for only a few days.
  • Corticosteroid spray – helps reduce inflammation and unblock your nasal passages
  • Antibiotics – can be helpful only for sinus infection that’s caused by bacteria
  • Allergy treatments and medication
  • Surgery – Minimally invasive as well as outpatient surgeries are available to correct underlying issues – such as nasal polyps or a deviated septum – that are causing your infection to remain.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of sinusitis that are lasting for more than 10 days, make an appointment today with New York ENT. By getting effective treatment sooner rather than later, you may be able to avoid months of miserable symptoms.

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