If you have a stuffy nose, sinus tenderness, and constant congestion—and these symptoms won’t go away—you could have a sinus infection.
Most of the time, these infections don’t require antibiotic treatment, since most are viral.
There are a number of over-the-counter medications that can help relieve the symptoms of a sinus infection.
If your symptoms are severe or last more than 10 days without improvement, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics for a bacterial sinus infection.
In this article, I’ll talk more about what a sinus infection is, and how to recognize its symptoms.
I’ll list some of the types of sinus infection medicine that is available, and their side effects.
I’ll offer some ways to prevent sinus infections, and outline some of the risks of complications if you have one.
And I’ll tell you when to see a doctor about sinus issues.
What is a Sinus Infection (Sinusitis)?
The sinuses are air-filled cavities around your face and nasal passages.
When you have a sinus infection, also called sinusitis, the lining of the sinuses becomes inflamed.
The inflammation can cause mucus to build up in the sinuses, which can lead to infection.
More than 30 million individuals are diagnosed with a sinus infection each year.
A large percentage of these infections resolve on their own.
Some of the most common symptoms of a sinus infection include:
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose
- Facial pain or pressure
- Postnasal drip (Mucus dripping down the throat)
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
A sinus infection can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungus that blocks the sinuses and can lead to:
- Common cold
- Nasal and seasonal allergies
- Polyps (growths)
- A weak immune system from illness or medication
Acute vs. chronic
A sinus infection is a common problem, but there are two different types: acute and chronic.
An acute sinus infection lasts less than four weeks, while a chronic sinus infection lasts more than 12 weeks.
Chronic sinus infections have the same symptoms as an acute sinus infection, but they are also accompanied by fatigue and a decreased sense of taste or smell.
Types of Sinus Infection Medicine
There are many medications available to help treat sinus infections. Some are over-the-counter, and others are prescription medications.
Since most sinus infections are viral, antibiotics won’t help.
But if your doctor determines your sinus infection is bacterial, you may be prescribed antibiotics.
Antibiotic treatment should always be guided by your physician, but the two most effective are amoxicillin-clavulanate (Augmentin) and doxycycline (for patients who are allergic to penicillin-type drugs).
The FDA has issued warnings of joint pains and other issues caused by a type of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones.
Therefore, you should avoid antibiotics like ciprofloxacin (Cipro) or levofloxacin (Levaquin), unless your doctor believes they are necessary.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) can bring relief to the pain caused due to the pressure in the sinus cavities.
Children younger than 6 months can be given only acetaminophen.
Saline nasal washes, often referred to as neti pots, can greatly help to relieve sinus congestion and provide relief without any side effects.
Make sure to always carefully read and follow the instructions on the box and pamphlet.
Do not use regular tap water for a sinus flush.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine, and nasal sprays like naphazoline can help reduce inflammation and swelling that causes sinus congestion.
Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine medications, such as Sudafed, Claritin, Zyrtec, or Benadryl, target allergy symptoms.
Steroid nasal sprays such as Flonase can help provide relief by decreasing the swelling of the nasal passageway, and can also help with allergy symptoms.
Common Side Effects of Sinus Infection Medications
Side effects of sinus infection medicine can vary based on the medication prescribed.
- Antibiotics: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, hives, or lightheadedness
- Decongestants: palpitations, insomnia, nervousness, and a decreased appetite
- Allergy medicine: drowsiness, heart palpitations, difficulty urinating, constipation, dry mouth, and nervousness
Preventing Sinus Infections
You can’t always prevent sinus infections, but these strategies can help prevent them from occurring.
- Clean your nasal passages regularly: Using a saline nasal wash to irrigate the nasal passages is a great way to clean them. You can also buy saline nasal spray to help keep your nasal passages clean.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids helps keep mucus thin and less likely to cause an infection. Drink at least eight glasses of water per day, or more if you’re active or outside in warm weather.
- Use a humidifier: A humidifier can help moisten the air in your home, which will keep your nasal passages from drying out and becoming infected.
- Inhale steam: Inhaling steam can help loosen mucus and congestion, making it easier to breathe. You can do this by taking a hot shower, sitting in a sauna, or using a humidifier.
- Sleep with your head elevated: Sleeping with your head elevated can help mucus drain from your sinuses. You can elevate your head by using a pillow or sleeping on an incline.
Risks of Sinus Infections
Though most cases of sinus infections are uncomplicated, there are some risks associated with them.
This is mainly because the walls of the sinuses are thin.
They share blood vessels and lymph drainage pathways with the eyes and other parts of the central nervous system.
Some of the rare but serious complications associated with sinus infection include:
- Eye infection: If the sinus infection spreads to the eye, it can cause serious damage and vision difficulties.
- Brain abscess: This is a rare but life-threatening complication that results when the infection spreads to the brain.
- Meningitis: This is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can be a very serious complication if not treated early.
- Mucocele: This is a benign tumor that can form on the sinus wall as a result of chronic sinus infection.
- Hyposmia: the nasal obstruction and inflammation of the olfactory nerve can cause a partial loss of smell.
When to See a Doctor
If your symptoms persist for more than a week, see a doctor.
A sinus infection that lasts longer than two weeks is considered chronic.
See your doctor if you have a fever, are coughing up blood, or develop swelling around the eyes.
Sinus infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria.
If your infection is viral, antibiotics will not help, and may even make things worse.
Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic if he or she suspects your infection is bacterial.
There are many different types of over-the-counter (OTC) sinus medication available.
Some work better than others depending on the type of infection you have.
Talk to your pharmacist about which OTC sinus infection medicine would work best for you.
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