Sinusitis: Frequently Asked Questions

pexels-photo-262218.jpegFacial pressure? Nasal congestion and drainage? A cold that won’t go away? If these symptoms describe you, you may have sinusitis, an inflammation of the lining of the sinuses.

Sinusitis is not uncommon—more than 30 million people are diagnosed with it each year in the U.S.

SO, what exactly is sinusitis, and how can it be treated?

University of Minnesota Physicians Broadway Family Medicine Clinic resident physician Lauren Williams, MD, answers some frequently asked questions about sinusitis.

What are sinuses?

Sinuses are pockets behind the bones of your forehead, nose, and cheeks that are usually filled with air. The lining of these pockets includes immune cells that help protect your body from anything you breathe in that might cause disease.

What is sinusitis?

Sinusitis is a swelling (or inflammation) of the lining of the sinuses.

The immune cells inside the sinuses increase the blood flow which leads to swelling and more mucus. This makes it harder to breathe through your nose.

The mucus can also block air flow. It can drip down from your nose into the back of your throat and cause coughing, especially when you lie down at night. This is referred to as post-nasal drip and may be accompanied by a feeling of tightness or irritation in the back of the throat.

What causes sinusitis?

The most common cause of sinusitis is a virus, like the common cold. It can be passed from person-to-person through close contact. This is why it is important to cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough AND wash your hands frequently.

Sinusitis can also be a response to an allergen or bacteria.

How do we treat sinusitis?

The treatment of sinusitis depends on the cause.

Luckily, viruses cause most cases of sinusitis. This means that most often you don’t need an antibiotic, the illness just needs to run its course.

Below are some ways to manage symptoms, like increased mucus, pain, and swelling.


  • To loosen and clear the mucus from your nose:
    • Use warm wet towels on your face.
    • Breathe in warm, humid air, either in a steamy shower or with a humidifier.
    • Use a nasal saline rinse (neti pot).
  • To reduce swelling in your nasal passages:
    • Use Afrin (oxymetolazone), a nasal spray, twice a day for two-three days. It may temporarily reduce swelling in your nasal passages and help mucus to drain out. Do not use Afrin for more than three days in a row, as your nose can become dependent on the medicine, and it can also lead to nose bleeds.
  • To treat headache or fever:
    • Take acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen as needed for headache or fever. Be sure to refer to the medication labels for proper dosing instructions.
  • To manage allergies:
    • A nasal steroid spray, such as Flonase, Nasacort, Rhinocort, or Nasonex, can help reduce the allergic response. You can use the spray every night for two-four weeks. After that time, you should stop and see if your symptoms have improved. If you notice that you have worsening congestion after stopping, you can restart for another two-four weeks.

Should I be seen at the clinic?

You may/may not need to be seen in clinic. Symptoms may get worse before they get better, usually peaking around five days after the start of a cold virus.

If you are not feeling better within 10 daysor you start to feel better but then get worse againyou should see your doctor, as you may be developing a bacterial sinusitis that needs to be treated with antibiotics.

If you feel short of breath or are having trouble breathing, are unable to eat or drink, or have a high fever for more than three days straight, you should call the clinic to make an appointment.

Call us at 612-302-8200. Our phones are answered 24/7, and we see patients, Monday-Friday, 8:00 am-5:00 pm.

Where can I find more information?

Check out these websites for more information about sinusitis:

Remember that anytime you search for medical information online, make sure it comes from a reputable source. Talk with your doctor about any questions you may have.

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