Approximately 35 million Americans experience at least one sinus infection each year. Sinus infections cause facial pain/pressure, stuffy/runny nose, loss of smell, cough, congestion, fever, bad breath, dental pain and fatigue. While most sinus infections are not serious and clear up on their own or with the use of antibiotics, some can be dangerous if left untreated.
What Causes Sinus Infections?
Sinus infections can be either viral or bacterial. The terms “sinus infection” and “sinusitis” are broad terms that simply describe inflammation of the sinuses – the hollow pockets between the bones surrounding your nose.
The only way to know whether the infection is caused by a virus, like the common cold, or bacteria is to swab the inside of the nose to grow a culture. According to ENT specialist Raj Sindwani, M.D., “This is rarely necessary because sinusitis often goes away by itself. But if it hangs on, you want to see your doctor.”
Because the symptoms of the different strains are so similar, doctors typically recommend that patients wait 7-10 days before seeking treatment; if the infection is caused by a cold, it should clear up in this time with rest and hydration.
If after this amount of time the infection is still present, doctors begin to suspect the cause is bacterial and prescribe an antibiotic.
When Sinus Infections Become Serious
While the main reason antibiotics are prescribed is for patient comfort, they can help prevent complications. While rare, it is possible for untreated sinus infections to spread to the eyes or brain.
Of the two, complications around the eyes are more common. Symptoms of spreading include redness, swelling and reduced vision. Serious cases are treated with IV antibiotics and patients are admitted to the hospital and ordered a CT scan.
In rarer cases, sinus infections in the rear center of the head can spread to the brain, leading to life-threatening conditions like meningitis or brain abscesses.
“Before antibiotics, people would die from sinusitis,” Dr. Sindwani explained. However, this is highly unlikely. “In most cases, the bacterial infection goes away, especially if you don’t have underlying medical problems.”
If you experience a sinus infection, be sure to monitor your symptoms and see a doctor if they persist more than 10 days. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the experts at Pinnacle ENT Associates today.