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What is a Bacterial Sinus Infection?

By Amanda Piontek
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A bacterial sinus infection is a condition in which the sinuses—mucus membrane-lined cavities inside the head—are inflamed and blocked with mucus or pus. A sinus infection can cause symptoms like a headache or green nasal drainage. It can also mimic a cold that does not improve or go away after more than a week. There are three main types of bacterial sinus infection: acute, subacute, and chronic, and the length of a sinus infection is one major factor in diagnosing its type. Treatment for a sinus infection traditionally includes medication and a humidifier, and surgery is occasionally required to correct the problem.

A seasonal allergy attack or a bout with the common cold virus often precedes a sinus infection. When nasal secretions cannot drain out of the sinus cavities, and a buildup of mucus occurs, the nasal passages become an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. A few other possible causes of a sinus infection include a foreign body inserted in the nose, medication that impairs the mucus membranes, and infection from the root of a diseased tooth.

When bacteria invade the sinuses it can cause a "stuffy nose" feeling, pain or pressure in the eyes and the mouth, and headaches. Sinus infection drainage is often thick and green or yellow, and might be tinged with blood. An earache, fever, or sore throat can also accompany a bacterial sinus infection. Swallowing the infected drainage can cause an upset stomach, and it is not unusual to experience a sinus infection and nausea.

The length of a bacterial sinus infection can be instrumental in determining the type. An acute infection is one that has been present for about a month or less. Subacute infections are likely to stretch from a month to around ten weeks. Diagnosis of chronic sinusitis is made when the infection continues to be present after a period of approximately ten weeks. Chronic sinusitis can also refer to a condition where the bacterial infections occur often and repeatedly.

Treatment for a sinus infection varies depending on the type and cause. A fungal sinus infection is frequently treated with a steroid nasal spray, while antibiotics are commonly indicated for a bacterial sinus infection. Antihistamines and decongestants can be used sparingly and with caution, and a humidifier might help relieve discomfort and thin the infected mucus. In some cases, surgery might be required to improve nasal drainage and relieve a chronic sinus infection.

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Discussion Comments
By anon343108 — On Jul 27, 2013

I am a 53 year old man in good health. I do not have high blood pressure and am not diabetic. About a year ago, my nose tip became red with a pimple. It will disappear for a while, but then after a few days it will come back again. What is the cause and what treatment should I get for this? Please give me a suggestion.

By DylanB — On Sep 24, 2012

@StarJo – Antibiotics won't do any good if the sinus infection is viral, though. The only way I can tell if a sinus infection is viral or bacterial is by how long it lasts.

If it's viral, it goes away in about 2 weeks. If it lingers after that, it is bacterial.

With the viral kind, I just use a humidifier and decongestants. During the day, I sometimes boil water on the stove and hang my head over it to inhale deeply. This helps unclog my sinuses a little.

Also, when I use my humidifier at night, I put some eucalyptus salve in it to intensify the effect. This helps me breathe enough to sleep.

By Oceana — On Sep 23, 2012

It's weird how the nose, throat, and ears all show symptoms of a bacterial sinus infection. The last time I had one, I had a sore throat on the left side of my head, and my left ear was also sore.

However, my nose and cheeks ached all over. The problems in my nose were not confined to one side.

I can take a stuffy nose for awhile, because I've always lived with moderate allergies, but I can't handle having a sore throat for more than a couple of days. My throat was the reason I sought treatment.

By lighth0se33 — On Sep 23, 2012

I have all the symptoms of a sinus infection. I have been hoping that my clogged sinuses were just a result of seasonal allergies that would go away soon, but it's been nearly a month, and I have no relief.

I take a daily antihistamine that is supposed to last 24 hours, but even it isn't helping. My sinuses are clogged with dried mucus, and some of it is so thick that I can't blow it out.

When some of it does come out on a tissue, it is greenish-yellow. Sometimes, pure blood comes out instead.

I don't think I can take this much longer. It's becoming apparent to me that it isn't going away on its own.

By StarJo — On Sep 22, 2012

The best bacterial sinus infection treatment is antibiotics to totally wipe it out. I struggled for months trying to self-medicate with antihistamines and decongestants, but nothing would work.

Only when my doctor gave me the right antibiotics did the symptoms go away. I hated the fact that I had wasted so much time trying to do home remedies, when I could have gotten better within a few days!

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