It may start with a simple cold, but pretty soon the familiar misery sets in:
- Your nasal discharge is thick and yellow or green in color
- Your head and nose are heavily congested
- You feel intense pressure behind your eyes and cheekbones
- Your head is throbbing
- Your breath gets bad
- You can’t smell or taste
- You may begin to develop a fever
This is no longer a common cold! What you’re likely dealing with here is a sinus infection.
What is a Sinus Infection?
The sinuses are a connected system of hollow cavities in the skull. Here’s a closer look at these different cavities:
- Maxillary sinuses. These are the largest of the sinuses. They are triangle-shaped and located to the right and left of the nose behind your cheekbones.
- Frontal sinuses. Also triangle shaped, the frontal sinuses are located on the low-center of your foreheads (one above each eye).
- Ethmoid sinuses. These are located beneath the frontal sinuses. They are small openings on either side of the bridge of the nose between the eyes.
- Sphenoid sinuses. These are located in the same area as the ethmoid sinuses, but they are behind your nose.
The sinuses typically have a thin layer of mucus that can drain into the nose. However, when viruses or allergies strike, things can go wrong. These ailments can increase mucus production and cause the lining of the sinuses (the mucosa) to become inflamed. When this happens, the mucus isn’t able to drain freely so it builds up. This moist, dark environment is perfect for bacteria to thrive in.
What Can I Do to Relieve my Symptoms at Home?
You can try nasal steroid sprays and sinus rinses/irrigation to help clear out your congestion and relieve any facial pain you may be having. This may be enough to help you get through until the symptoms clear up on their own. But if they persist, you may need antibiotics.
When Should I See the Doctor?
Colds generally last about a week. If yours persists for longer than that and you are developing (or have developed) some of the sinus symptoms described earlier in this article, you can try home remedies. However, if these don’t relieve your misery within a couple of days, contact your doctor—especially if you have a fever, facial or head pain, or dark yellow/green mucus.
What Causes Sinus Infections?
Colds can definitely play a role. They kick up mucus production and cause the sinuses to become inflamed. These conditions alone invite bacteria growth, but add to that the additional risk for bacteria being introduced into the nose from your hands, which are constantly coming into contact with your nose for wiping and blowing.
What if These Infections Recur?
It’s common to get a sinus infection every once in a while, but if you find that you are getting them frequently (a few per year or more), you may have a chronic condition resulting from allergies. One of the ways your body reacts to allergens in the environment is by producing chemicals, such as histamine, to fend them off. These chemicals lead to inflammation of the sinus lining, which inhibits proper sinus drainage. If this is happening persistently, you’ll be very vulnerable to sinus infections.
This chronic inflammation from allergies can also lead to the formation of nasal polyps, which are small growths in the nasal cavity. Polyps can impede proper sinus drainage and invite infection.
Allergy Testing and Treatment for Recurring Sinus Infections
Talk to your doctor if you are getting frequent sinus infections. He or she can perform a brief skin test to assess the nature and scope of your allergies.
Allergy treatment may sound like a big deal that requires shots and frequent trips to the doctor, but there are some very user-friendly alternatives now. One of these treatments is known as sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). With SLIT, the desensitization-inducing antigen can be dosed as liquid allergy drops under the tongue instead of as painful allergy shots. This method has been shown to be as effective as shots, but it’s safer so it can be dosed at home instead of at the doctor’s office. Users take a few droplets under the tongue each morning or evening to achieve allergic desensitization.
This treatment was developed in the mid-1980s. It is very popular in Europe, where roughly half of all patients receiving allergy immunotherapy treatment get allergy drops instead of shots. It is quickly catching on here in America as a treatment that is both effective and convenient, and also a safer option for many children.
Sinus infections are miserable, and there’s nothing worse than feeling one start to develop when the last one is still fresh in your memory. Talk to your doctor about prescribing sublingual immunotherapy to end ongoing sinus problems.