Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/25/2020
Few people go to a healthcare professional when they have a cold. They surround themselves with the tools of self care — tissues, fluids, over-the-counter meds, chicken soup — and power through it. But sometimes it’s not just a cold, and sometimes powering through it seems too difficult.
Sinus infections or sinusitis can make you miserable. And when you add “chronic” to that, you’re in for a long haul of trouble.
When it comes to treating something like sinusitis, there’s no value in waiting. Talking to a healthcare professional sooner rather than later can help you find the right treatments to make you feel better while your body fights this illness.
Sinusitis is a common condition, affecting one in eight adults each year. It’s common, but it’s miserable. It's an infection of your sinuses — hollow spaces around the bones near your nose. They stretch between your eyes, behind your forehead, on your nose and cheeks and this is where you’ll feel it when you have sinusitis.
Your sinuses make mucus, which drains into your nasal passages and nose. When they are infected and inflamed, this can block that natural flow of mucus, leaving you in pain.
Often, a sinus infection begins as a cold — where bacteria or viruses infect the sinuses and begin to multiply into an infection, though this isn’t always the case.
There are a few different kinds of sinusitis: acute, subacute, chronic and recurrent.
Acute sinusitis generally lasts up to four weeks while subacute lasts up to twelve. Recurrent sinusitis is a sinus infection that comes back several times throughout the year. And chronic sinusitis lasts more than 12 weeks and can continue indefinitely.
Chronic sinusitis can be miserable, and is often misdiagnosed. Understanding what it feels like and then discussing your symptoms with a healthcare professional could put you on the path to recovery if you feel like you might be suffering from such an infection.
The most pronounced symptom of a chronic sinus infection is pain originating in the sinus cavities. You’ll feel this pain in your face, forehead and around your eyes — it may even feel similar to a toothache. But other sinusitis symptoms beyond facial pain are possible. Other signs of sinusitis include:
Mucus in your nose and throat
Swelling or inflammation in your nose and throat
Decreased sense of smell
The thing that sets chronic sinusitis apart from other forms is how long it lasts. Your symptoms must be present for more than 12 weeks for a chronic sinusitis diagnosis.
The first step in getting treatment for chronic sinus infection is receiving an accurate diagnosis from a health care professional.
Your healthcare provider will review your symptoms and medical history, and if you’re in the office, examine you for signs of sinusitis or other medical problems. They may check to ensure you don’t have a nasal obstruction or nasal polyps causing your symptoms.
If it’s determined you have chronic sinusitis, there are several approaches and medical treatments your healthcare provider might take to help you feel better.
It’s important to note that treatment approaches for sinusitis aren’t completely agreed upon — some physicians may immediately prescribe an antibiotic to help kill off the infection, while others may recommend a more conservative, home treatment approach.
Antibiotics may help kill the infection that’s taken hold in your sinuses. If your healthcare provider prescribes an antibiotic, you’ll likely need to take it for up to three weeks.
They may also recommend nasal steroids, nasal sprays, antihistamines if allergies are partly to blame and decongestants to relieve your symptoms. Taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help control sinus pain.
When you’re sick with chronic sinusitis, there are things you can do to help speed your recovery and manage your symptoms. A vaporizer can provide some relief, as can using a heat pad on your inflamed sinuses. Getting rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and managing triggers like allergens that can worsen your symptoms will all go a long way in helping you recover from chronic sinusitis. To learn more, check out our blog on sinus infections and how they can cause mental confusion.