When a person suffers from a common cold, she has nasal congestion that lasts between seven to 10 days that clears up when she uses over-the-counter medications, like a decongestant. But if she has a sinus infection, that congestion lasts longer than 10 days and does not respond to an over-the-counter decongestant.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases noted that in 2009, about 31 million adults reported having a sinus infection, also called sinusitis, which has several symptoms in addition to the nasal congestion. The duration can be up to four weeks (acute sinus infection) to more than 12 weeks (chronic sinus infection).
People suffering from a sinus infection can do some home remedies to help reduce the congestion from the sinus infection. For example, MedlinePlus noted that inhaling steam, such as from a shower, two to four times during the day can help with congestion. Using a humidifier and spraying with nasal saline may also help. Other home remedies that may alleviate the nasal congestion from a sinus infection include placing a warm and moist washcloth on the face multiple times during the day and drinking lots of fluids.
The University of Richmond Student Health Center recommends 10 to 12 glasses of fluids a day, which helps thin the mucus. Sinus infection sufferers with nasal congestion should be careful with over-the-counter spray nasal decongestants — MedlinePlus stated that more than three to five days of use can worsen the existing congestion. With sinus pain, over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen, may help.
Medication may be needed for some people with a sinus infection. If the cause is a bacterial infection, an antibiotic may be prescribed. However, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases noted that many cases of acute sinus infections go away without needing antibiotics. MedlinePlus added that in some cases, such as when the person has severe swelling around her eyes or a fever above 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit, an antibiotic may be prescribed earlier. Some patients may receive allergy shots or take steroids, such as nasal steroid sprays and oral steroids.
If medications do not help with a chronic sinus infection, surgery may be needed. This may involve enlarging the openings of the sinuses or removing any nasal polyps. MedlinePlus noted that in most sinus infections caused by a fungus, surgery is needed.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Sinusitis: What is Sinusitis?. National Institutes of Health, 2011. Web. 24 August 2011
University of Richmond Student Health Center. Sinus Infection. Web. 24 August 2011
A.D.A.M. Sinusitis. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, 2010. Web. 24 August 2011
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Sinusitis: How is Sinusitis Treated?. National Institutes of Health, 2011. Web. 24 August 2011
Reviewed on August 25, 2011
by Maryann Gromisch
Edited by Jody Smith