What is Sinusitis? How to Treat and Prevent It

A man with sinusitis experiencing facial pain.

Has this ever happened to you? You're finally recovering from a nasty cold or from your seasonal allergy symptoms. You feel like your symptoms should be on the up and up— but somehow, they aren't.

In fact, they may even feel worse.

Your nose and your head still feel stuffed up and congested, and you may even feel pressure or pain in these areas. That's a sure sign that you no longer just have a cold or allergies— that's a sure sign of sinusitis.

1 in 7 adults in the US get sinusitis each year— that's more than 30 million people! But as common as sinusitis is, there's still some confusion about what it is and how you get it. So let's take a look at what sinusitis is, what it isn't, and how to treat it.

What is Sinusitis?

Sinusitis— also known as a sinus infection or rhinosinusitis— occurs when the tissue lining your sinuses become inflamed or swollen.

Your sinuses are connected by small channels that help drain mucus out of your nose. This helps keep it clean, and free of bacteria that can irritate your sinuses or make you sick.

What Causes Sinusitis?

Sinus infections are typically caused by the common cold or allergic rhinitis— also known as allergies. They can also be caused by:

Smoking can also increase your risk of getting sinusitis. Infants and young children can also be at increased risk of sinusitis if they use pacifiers, drink bottles while laying down, or spend a lot of time in daycare centers where they're more likely to catch a bug from other kids.

There are different kinds of sinusitis depending on the source of the inflammation. They include:

  • Chronic sinusitis. Chronic sinus infections— or chronic rhinosinusitis— occur when you experience nasal congestion, sinus pain or headaches, a runny nose, or loss of your sense of smell for at least 12 weeks.
  • Acute bacterial sinusitis. This refers to sudden cold symptoms— a runny nose, stuffy nose, and a sinus headache— that don't go away after 10 days. These symptoms may seem to improve but can come back in a more severe form. As the name implies, this infection is caused by bacteria.
  • Subacute sinusitis. This occurs when your sinusitis symptoms last between 4 and 12 weeks.
  • Recurrent acute sinusitis. This is when your sinusitis symptoms return 4 or more times a year, and last for less than 2 weeks at a time.

Because sinusitis isn't caused by a virus, the condition itself is not contagious. However, the viruses that can later lead to sinusitis— like the common cold— can be passed from person to person.

Nasal congestion is a common symptom of health problems like allergies and the common cold, and is typically harmless. However, it's possible to get an infection from this nasal obstruction or blockage, even if it's never happened before.

Sinusitis Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of sinus infections include:

  • Postnasal drip
  • A stuffy or runny nose with discolored nasal discharge
  • Bad breath
  • A cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Pressure or pain around your nose, eyes, forehead, teeth, or ears

What's The Difference Between Sinusitis, a Cold, and Allergies?

Because the symptoms are so similar, it may not always be easy to tell whether you have a cold, allergies, or a sinus infection.

Remember, you normally won't get sinusitis unless you've been dealing with a cold or allergies. The severity of your allergies can vary from day to day, and depend on how many allergens you're exposed to.

A cold normally builds, peaks, and then disappears over the span of a few days. If your cold does not go away— or if it comes back— that's a sign that it's become a sinus infection.

If you think that you have sinusitis, it's important to contact your doctor, an ENT specialist, or primary care provider as soon as possible. They'll examine your symptoms and perform a small physical exam to check your ears, nose, and throat for any issues. They may even perform a nasal endoscopy to look inside your nose. [1]

With a diagnosis, your doctor can then help you find the right treatment option.

5 Tips That Can Help You Prevent Sinusitis

When it comes to sinus infections, prevention is the best cure. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting one. Here are our five easy tips to help you prevent sinusitis and breathe better.

Tip #1: Wash Your Hands Often

The best way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases or allergens that can cause sinusitis is to wash your hands.

Your hands come in contact with millions of microbes every day. Of course, this makes it easy to pick up germs, viruses, or irritants like pollen or pet dander. If these irritants get into your nasal passages, they can leave you a sneezy, snuffly mess. 

The best way to avoid this is to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water. Here's when you should always wash your hands:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before and after you eat
  • After using the bathroom
  • After you blow your nose, cough, or sneeze
  • Before and after treating a wound, or taking care of someone who is sick
  • After touching an animal, their food, or their waste
  • After touching garbage

Tip #2: Blow Your Nose Properly

You may not think a lot about how you blow your nose. There is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Blowing your nose the right way helps prevent the sinus inflammation that can cause a sinus infection. Blowing your nose too hard can actually make your nasal symptoms worse, cause nosebleeds, and even hurt your ears by forcing air from your nose to your middle ear. This can force bacteria and mucus backward into the sinuses and increase your risk of infection.

Here's how to properly blow your nose:

  • Place your finger on one nostril— but don't block your airway. This is another common mistake.
  • After taking a breath, gently blow one side at a time into a tissue. This will help you clear your sinuses effectively, but without irritating your nasal passages.
  • Repeat on the other side if needed.
  • Once you finish, throw away your tissue and wash your hands.

Want to learn more about how to properly blow your nose? Check out our article on the topic when you’re finished here!

Tip #3: "Allergy-proof" Your Home

Remember, colds aren't the only cause of sinusitis. Your allergies can be a major factor as well. To prevent your allergies from causing a sinus infection, you should "allergy-proof" your home. This will keep all potential irritants to a minimum and help you breathe more freely.

Here are a few easy ways to get started:

  • Vacuum or sweep regularly. For best results, use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. This can help filter allergens out of the air too.
  • Dust all hard surfaces weekly.
  • Wash all soft items— like pillows, blankets, bedsheets, et cetera— regularly to ensure that any irritants are kept to a minimum. Wash more frequently if they're near open windows, or if you have kids or pets. Wash everything in hot water and in high heat to kill any dust mites and remove any lingering allergens like pet dander.
  • Keep windows and doors closed during pollen season if you have hay fever. Use the air conditioner to keep your home cool on high pollen days.

Tip #4: Use a Humidifier

Dry air can irritate and inflame your sinuses and contribute to a sinus infection. You can prevent this by using a cool vapor humidifier.

These handy machines add humidity to the air through soothing vapor, which can help keep your sinuses moisturized and comfortable. They're also great for helping you decongest if you're feeling stuffy.

Just remember to use distilled water when you fill them up.

Tip #5: Decongest Naturally with SinuSonic

It can be tempting to decongest in an explosive way if you're feeling stuffed up from a cold, allergies, or sinusitis. Try to avoid this urge! Remember— decongesting too forcefully can make your symptoms worse!

But if you're looking for a gentle way to decongest and breathe better, try SinuSonic.

SinuSonic is used by rhinologists as an alternative to nasal sprays and decongestants, and messy irrigation. It's a non-addictive, non-drug solution for opening your blocked airway so you can decongest your sinuses and relieve sinus pressure.

The device uses gentle acoustic vibrations and light pressure to clear your sinuses naturally. SinuSonic's unique flutter valve also provides light resistance as you breathe to help you breathe stronger and more freely. With daily use, SinuSonic can be both a solution and a preventative measure for your nasal congestion woes.

Need to blow your nose during or after using the device? That's a sign that it's working!

Don't Let Sinusitis Put You Under Pressure

The common cold and allergy symptoms are unpleasant enough, even when they're short-lived. However, if they evolve into sinusitis, then your symptoms may start impacting your overall quality of life. 

Thankfully though, sinusitis can be easily treated and prevented. Give these tips a try if you're worried about getting a sinus infection the next cold or allergy season. You may be surprised by how well these changes work!

Want to learn more about SinuSonic, or have some questions for the team? Let's get in touch!

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  1. "Nasal Endoscopy." Johns Hopkins Medicine, 14 Aug. 2019, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/nasal-endoscopy.
  2. "Sinus Surgery for Treating Chronic Sinusitis." WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/allergies/sinusitis-do-i-need-surgery.