10 Questions – And Answers – About Sinus Infections

By Jane Sennett, DO flu

While winter is known for cold weather, ice skating and hot chocolate, it’s also known for the flu, colds and the dreaded sinus infection. Deciphering and diagnosing a sinus infection can be tricky, but fortunately there are frequently asked questions to help you.

What are sinuses?

A sinus is a hollow, air-filled cavity. There is a frontal sinus, located in the forehead; the maxillary sinus, which is behind the cheek; ethmoid sinuses between the eyes and the sphenoid sinus, located deep behind the eyes.

What is sinusitis?

Sinusitis, or a sinus infection, is an inflammation or swelling of your sinuses. Normally, your sinuses are filled with air. When the sinuses become blocked and filled with fluid, bacteria can grow there and cause an infection.

How common is sinusitis?

More than 37 million Americans suffer from at least one episode of acute sinusitis each year. It has increased throughout recent years, perhaps due to increased pollution and resistance to antibiotics.

What are the signs of a sinus infection?

Symptoms include facial pain or pressure, nasal obstruction, or a “stuffed up” nose, nasal discharge, and a diminished sense of smell.

How is sinusitis treated?

Most sinus infections are viral and will resolve. However true bacterial infections require an extended course if antibiotics. Patients needing antibiotics are generally treated with 10 to 14 days of antibiotics. We also may prescribe oral and topical decongestants to help alleviate the symptoms.

Can I use over-the-counter sinus medicine for a sinus infection?

It depends on the person. It’s best to come to our office to be examined by a doctor to determine the best treatment.

How long does a sinus infection last?

Severe cases can last 4 to 12 weeks, while less severe cases can last up to 4 weeks. Chronic sinusitis can last 3 months of longer and may require surgery.

Is rinsing your sinuses safe?

You may safely use normal saline spray to help irrigate your sinuses. Using something like a neti pot is safe as long as the water used is filtered or distilled. If you experience a fever, nosebleed or experience frequent headaches after using a neti pot, you should definitely seek medical attention.

Are sinus infections contagious?

Sinusitis is not contagious. However, keep in mind that clogged sinuses can provide an ideal environment for bacteria to breed.

What happens if a sinus infection is left undiagnosed?

If left untreated, a sinus infection can lead to severe medical problems including infections of the eye socket and blood clots in the sinus area around the front and top of the face.

If this winter weather has you yelling ”achoo” instead of outside chanting ”woohoo,” visit eMedical Urgent Care in Berkeley Heights and Middletown, N.J., and to start feeling better today!

Jane Sennett, DO, is the medical director for eMedical Urgent Care, formerly known as eMedical Offices (EMO). She joined eMedical Urgent Care in 2014. She is board-certified in emergency medicine. Dr. Sennett earned her medical degree from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s School of Osteopathic Medicine and completed her emergency medicine residency at Union Hospital and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. Dr. Sennett holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Rutgers University. She also is an attending physician at Overlook Medical Center- Union Campus and Robert Wood University Hospital at Rahway.


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