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Reviewed 2/8/2023

Sinusitis: Myth or fact?

The sinuses are cavities in the skull. They're located around the eyes and behind the nose, and they help warm and filter the air we breathe. When they become blocked or too much mucus builds up, it can cause an infection called sinusitis, which affects about 1 in 8 adults each year. How much do you know about it?

Myth or fact: Sinusitis can have many causes.

Fact. Sinusitis can be caused by viruses or bacteria. Fungi and allergens can also cause symptoms that mimic sinusitis. Other risk factors are having conditions like asthma or cystic fibrosis, as well as trauma or previous surgeries that have caused scar tissue to form in the sinus passages.

Myth or fact: Colored or cloudy drainage is a sign of sinusitis.

Fact. You may have sinusitis if you've had cloudy or colored-not clear-mucus for up to four weeks. Other signs include a stuffy nose or pain and pressure in the head and face. Decreased sense of smell, fever, sore throat and fatigue are other possible symptoms.

Myth or fact: Surgery is the best option for treating recurring sinusitis.

Myth. It's best to try medicines-or other noninvasive methods to control sinusitis-before considering surgery. Even after surgery, most patients will continue to take medication to keep symptoms from returning. However, surgery is a good option if your symptoms don't get better with medicine and become chronic.

Myth or fact: A sinus infection always require antibiotics.

Myth. Most sinus infections are viral and will not get better with antibiotics. If you've been sick for less than 10 days and your symptoms don't get worse, it's likely a viral infection. Bacterial sinusitis lasts longer and may require an antibiotic to treat it.

Myth or fact: Using a saline rinse can help relieve sinus problems without using medication.

Fact. A sinus rinse can help remove and thin out excess mucus. For those with allergies, the rinse can bring relief by removing allergens from the nose and sinuses. You can buy a rinse at the drugstore or make your own at home.

If you've had the symptoms of a sinus infection for more than 10 days, or have a fever, it's time to see your doctor to determine if you have sinusitis and what you need to do to treat it.

Learn more in the nose topic center

Sources: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology; American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery; American Rhinologic Society; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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