The sinuses are air-filled spaces in the bones of the face. They sit behind your cheekbones and forehead and are lined with a membrane that can sometimes become inflamed and swollen, leading to a blocked nose and pain in the face. This is known as sinusitis.

What are the symptoms of sinusitis?

You will usually develop sinusitis after having a cold or the flu. The key symptoms of sinusitis are a blocked or stuffy nose, and pain and tenderness around the cheeks and the forehead.

You might also experience:

  • Green and yellow mucus from the nose – you may notice this when you blow your nose
  • A reduced sense of smell
  • Toothache
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Bad breath

You might notice that you have sinusitis when you’re on an airplane. During a flight, pressure changes cause your sinuses to expand and shrink. If you have sinusitis this can cause sudden, sharp pain in the cheekbones and forehead. It’s perfectly safe to fly when you have sinusitis, but you might want to take decongestant sprays with you to avoid symptoms.

In very rare cases, a severe sinus infection can spread elsewhere and cause more serious symptoms. If your eyelid becomes painful and swollen while you have sinusitis this could mean you have an infection in your eye – you should seek medical help for this as soon as possible. If you develop a stiff neck, very bad headaches, high temperature or vomit this could also suggest a more serious infection and you should see a doctor urgently.

What causes sinusitis?

Sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses) usually happens when the lining of your sinuses becomes infected. This nearly always happens as a result of a viral infection such as the common cold, although in rare cases, sinusitis can result from a bacterial infection.

Some conditions and lifestyle factors can make your more prone to getting sinusitis, such as:

  • A blockage in your nose
  • Asthma
  • Smoking
  • Allergies
  • Pregnancy
  • Swimming or diving
  • An injury to the face

How is sinusitis treated?

The symptoms of sinusitis usually clear up within a few weeks, which means you shouldn’t need to see a doctor. You can treat your symptoms at home by resting, drinking lots of fluids, and taking painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.

Other home remedies that can help include:

  • Cleaning your nose with salt water
  • Holding a warm flannel over your nose, cheeks and forehead
  • Holding your face over a bowl of hot water and inhaling the steam

In addition you can visit a pharmacy for decongestant nasal sprays or drops to help with your blocked nose.

In certain circumstances sinusitis should be treated by a doctor. You should make an appointment if your symptoms:

  • Are very severe
  • Get worse
  • Don’t start to improve after a week
  • Don’t improve if you take painkillers
  • Keep returning

A doctor might offer prescription treatments such as steroid nasal sprays or drops, antihistamines to treat an allergic reaction, or antibiotics if they suspect the cause is bacterial or that the infection has led to complications.

In rare cases, chronic sinusitis requires specialist treatment such as surgery. Surgery for chronic sinusitis involves widening the sinuses by removing tissue or inflating a tiny balloon inside the blocked sinuses. These procedures are done under general anaesthetic.

To get treatment online for your sinusitis symptoms, make an appointment with Doctor Care Anywhere.

How can I avoid getting sinusitis?

Sinusitis isn’t always easy to avoid, as it often happens after you’ve had a cold or the flu. In general, you can reduce your risk by practising good hygiene, quitting smoking, and keeping any allergies well controlled.

If you do develop a cold or the flu, make sure you take care of yourself properly, taking time off work and treating your symptoms with over-the-counter products and home remedies.

What else could be causing my symptoms?

The symptoms of sinusitis can indicate a separate condition: nasal polyps. This is where soft, painless growths develop inside your nose, causing a blocked nose, runny nose, reduced sense of smell, and nosebleeds. If the polyps block the sinuses, they can cause the symptoms of sinusitis.

Nasal polyps have to be diagnosed by a doctor, and can be treated with steroid nose drops, steroid tablets, or surgery.

Content reviewed by Jemma Shafier, a Doctor Care Anywhere GP