Bacterial Sinusitis

What is bacterial sinusitis?

Bacterial sinusitis is a bacterial infection of the sinuses (hollow spaces in bones of the face around the nose). Bacterial sinusitis often follows a viral infection, such as a cold or the flu. The most common symptoms are a blocked nose and pain or pressure in the region around the nose. Bacterial sinusitis may be treated with anti-inflammatory medications, decongestant medications and antibiotics as needed. Most cases of bacterial sinusitis recover within two weeks, and have no further symptoms.


Bacterial sinusitis may follow a cold or flu infection. Women may be slightly more likely than men to get bacterial sinusitis. The condition is caused by bacteria that live in the nose, throat and, sometimes, the mouth. People with allergies, nasal polyps or a deviated (not straight) nasal septum (the wall between the nasal cavities) might be more likely to get bacterial sinusitis, because these conditions make it easier for bacteria to infect the sinuses. People with infections in the teeth or mouth can have an infection spread from the mouth to the sinuses.


The most common symptoms are a blocked nose, and pain or pressure in the region around the nose. There may also be pain or pressure in the forehead, around the eyes and in the upper jaw. The pain often gets worse when bending forwards. Other common symptoms are a runny nose, headache, ear pain, tiredness or fever. If this condition lasts longer than 10 days, the sinusitis is more likely caused by a bacteria than a virus.


The diagnosis is based on the symptoms and physical examination. A computed tomography (CT) scan may be helpful in assessing the sinuses and confirming the diagnosis in complicated cases.


Most cases of bacterial sinusitis will get better without antibiotics. Antibiotics help in people who have ongoing symptoms. In many cases, home remedies may be sufficient. Some people find breathing humid air or steam, such as in a warm shower, helps to relieve symptoms. Anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen or paracetamol) may help to reduce pain and swelling in the nose and face. Decongestant sprays or tablets are also often helpful in relieving symptoms.


Taking care to prevent the spread of colds or the flu in the home and community can help prevent some cases of bacterial sinusitis. Seeing a dentist regularly may help prevent the occasional case of bacterial sinusitis.