Walgreens The Thread

Sinus infections: Causes, symptoms and treatment

By Dennis Galvon, MD Oct 25, 2023 • 5 min

Each year, 31 million people in the U.S. develop sinus infections. In many cases, sinus infections clear up on their own. For those that don’t, sinus infection treatment is available.

What is a sinus infection?

Also known as sinusitis, a sinus infection happens when the tissue that lines the sinuses becomes inflamed. The sinuses are air-filled spaces located above your eyes, between your eyes and nose, and behind your cheeks.

What causes sinus infections?

Most often, sinus infections are caused by viruses or bacteria. Certain types of fungus can also cause sinusitis, and while fungal sinus infections are less common, they’re more serious.

Some people are more prone to developing sinus infections than others. Risk factors for sinus infections include:

  • Chronic nasal obstruction
  • Asthma
  • Conditions and medications that suppress the immune system
  • Deviated septum
  • Seasonal or food allergies
  • Smoking, vaping and secondhand smoke exposure

Are sinus infections contagious?

By itself, a sinus infection isn’t contagious. However, the germs responsible for causing the infection may be.

What are the symptoms of a sinus infection?

If you have a sinus infection, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth
  • Pain in your upper teeth
  • Ear pain or pressure
  • Fever
  • Headaches or pressure in the front of your head
  • Irritated or sore throat
  • Thick green or yellow mucus
  • Nasal congestion

Sinus infection symptoms can be similar to those of the common cold and flu. See your healthcare provider for an official diagnosis.

How long does a sinus infection last?

Sinus infection symptoms may persist for up to three to eight weeks. In some people, sinus infections last longer, and healthcare providers refer to these persistent cases as “chronic sinusitis.” Chronic sinusitis lasts more than 12 weeks and may persist for months.

How do you treat a sinus infection?

Because sinus infections can have different causes, treatments vary and may include the following:

Prescription medications

Healthcare providers often prescribe medications to treat sinus infections. Some drugs that may be prescribed include:

  • Antibiotics for infections caused by bacteria
  • Antifungals for infections caused by fungi
  • Decongestants to reduce inflammation in the sinuses
  • Intranasal steroid sprays to ease inflammation

Over-the-counter medications

Many healthcare providers will recommend addressing symptoms with over-the-counter products, such as:

Treatment for underlying conditions

If an underlying condition has contributed to your sinus infection, your healthcare provider may recommend additional treatments. For example, antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays and/or allergy shots may help control seasonal allergies. Rarely, you may need to see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist to consider surgery to remove polyps or correct a deviated septum. Nasal rinses with salt water (saline), such as a neti pot or saline spray, may be useful for relieving obstruction and preventing sinus infections.


While recovering from a sinus infection, the following tips may help manage your symptoms:

  • Apply a moist, warm compress to your face to reduce pain and pressure
  • Inhale steam two to four times per day
  • Drink hot fluids to thin mucus
  • Get plenty of rest

When should I see my healthcare provider about a sinus infection?

Let your healthcare provider know about symptoms that last for more than a week or if you develop symptoms that improve and then come back. You should also talk to your healthcare provider if you experience severe headaches, redness, swelling or facial pain, or if you have a fever that lasts for more than three or four days.

Updated October 2023.

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