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  • Writer's pictureDr. Koralla Raja Meghanadh

Acute Sinusitis- Symptoms, Causes & Prevention Tips

Updated: Apr 18

Acute Sinusitis- Symptoms, Causes & Prevention Tips

Sinusitis is caused when the sinuses are inflamed and swollen due to a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection. This inflammation causes fluid buildup in the sinuses, leading to further infections. In some cases, the causes of sinusitis can be allergies or anatomical abnormalities, which provide an environment for bacteria and fungi to grow and lead to inflammation of the sinuses. The inflammation can further cause accumulations worsening the issue.

Most nose and sinus infections start as a common cold, a viral infection that should ideally subside within 5 to 7 days. During these seven days, if fluids stagnate, this common viral infection will become acute sinusitis.

Acute sinusitis

Acute means severe, so a stage of sinusitis with severe symptoms is acute sinusitis. The first stage of sinusitis is always acute sinusitis lasting 15 days. If an individual takes proper treatment during these 15 days, acute sinusitis is more likely to get cured than other stages. If not, the acute sinusitis progresses to subacute sinusitis, followed by chronic sinusitis.

During the chronic or the later stages of a sinus infection, acute episodes can occur repeatedly, and these episodes are referred to as "acute on chronic" stages. These episodes are indicated by an increase in the severity and the number of symptoms. It is important to differentiate these stages from the initial onset of sinus infection, as the likelihood of completely curing the infection with medication at this point is generally low.

Acute sinusitis symptoms

The symptoms of acute sinusitis are often mistaken for those of the common cold. During the onset of acute sinusitis, common cold symptoms worsen instead of improve, which leads to confusion. If the symptoms worsen after five days of the common cold, it indicates a viral infection progression into acute sinusitis. Although the symptoms of acute sinusitis are similar to those of a common cold, they are likely to worsen instead of improve after six to fifteen days, indicating the transition from the common cold to acute sinusitis.

The symptoms of acute sinusitis are:

  1. Nose block

  2. Running nose

  3. Headache

  4. Facial pain

  5. sore throat and pain in the throat

  6. Recurrent attacks of cough

As the term "acute" means severe, symptoms are usually higher and more severe during the acute phase of sinusitis than in the later stages. In acute sinusitis, we will experience two to four sinusitis symptoms. But, as we progress to subacute and chronic, the number of symptoms and severity decreases. In the chronic stage, we tend to have one or two symptoms that we ignore or do not notice.

For a complete understanding of sinusitis symptoms, we recommend you to read our article "Symptoms of Sinusitis/Sinus Infection."

What causes acute sinusitis?

The common cold is the most common cause of sinusitis. Usually, the common cold subsides within 5-7 days. When someone with a few underlying conditions mentioned in the below section gets a viral infection, like the common cold, the inflammation in the nasal structures can lead to fluid build-up in the sinuses. This stagnant fluid creates an environment for bacteria to thrive and infect the sinus lining, resulting in acute sinusitis.

Who's at risk for acute sinusitis? What are the underlying conditions responsible for sinusitis?

People with any of the following underlying conditions are at risk of getting acute sinusitis:

  1. Allergy

  2. Anomalies in the sinus opening and drainage paths

  3. Lesser immunity against bacteria by birth

To know more about these underlying conditions, click here.

How is acute sinusitis diagnosed?

It is recommended to consult a doctor whenever you experience any acute sinusitis symptoms. The doctor will diagnose acute sinusitis using diagnostic nasal endoscopy. In endoscopy, the doctor examines the nasal cavity and can find nasal polyps, mucoid discharge, or yellow pus that will indicate sinusitis.

Usually, doctors skip CT scans for acute sinusitis as it is a very early stage. CT scan is under exceptional circumstances like

  1. When symptoms continue even after completing an entire course of medication

  2. A patient is not responding to medication as per the doctor's expectations

  3. When there are any complications or underlying issues

Thankfully these conditions don't occur frequently.


Complications are rare for acute sinusitis in particular, but they can be very serious when they occur. When our immunity goes down, the infection can affect the surrounding structures like the eyes, brain, and teeth.

The following are possible complications that can result from acute sinusitis:

  1. Orbital cellulitis It occurs when sinusitis affects the eye. It causes pain, swelling, and loss of function.

  2. Orbital abscess It occupies the lesion space near the eye with pus, restricting eye movement and blood supply to the optic nerve.

  3. Meningitis The infection will spread to the brain's coverings, resulting in vomiting, a rise in blood pressure, and a drop-in heart rate.

  4. Encephalitis The infection will spread to the brain's contents, causing seizures, high fever, and coma, followed by death.

To know in detail about the complications on how and when they occur, read our article "Complications of Sinusitis."

Treatment for acute sinusitis

In most cases, acute sinusitis can heal independently without doctor intervention. But, it is recommended to consult even in the very early stages as you can avoid complications and progression of the disease to later stages using simple medication.

In acute sinusitis, if the infection is bacterial, the doctors will prescribe antibiotics for at least ten days or another five days after the symptoms are reduced. If a viral infection causes it, then the doctor will prescribe antivirals. The doctor may also prescribe other supportive medications like antiallergics and decongestants like xylometazoline and oxymetazoline (Otrivin nasal drops).

Does acute sinusitis require surgery?

Acute sinusitis doesn't require surgery as it can often be resolved through medical treatment alone. But, as the disease progresses into the next stages, you might need endoscopic sinus surgery, which could be hefty for our pockets.

For more information, refer to the article "Treatment for Sinusitis."

How to treat acute sinusitis at home

While our immune system is typically capable of combating acute sinusitis, taking precautionary measures is always wise. Following the doctor's medication plan and integrating some helpful home remedies is recommended to minimize the infection and boost our immune system. By incorporating these supportive treatments, the recovery process can be expedited, and the outcome of the battle against sinusitis can be altered. Therefore, taking a proactive approach to treat sinusitis is crucial by utilizing medical and natural remedies.

Here are some effective home remedies for acute sinusitis:

  1. Steam inhalation

  2. Daily workouts

  3. Staying hydrated

  4. Proper sleep

  5. immunity booster

To gain insight into effectively implementing each step, refer to our article titled "Sinusitis Relief with Home Remedies."

Prevention Tips for Acute Sinusitis

Although we can treat acute sinusitis, it is always better to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Here are some prevention tips for acute sinusitis:

  1. Treat the common cold promptly By now, we all know that the common cold causes most sinusitis. So, treating these conditions can prevent sinusitis.

  2. Maintain good immunity Keep your immune system strong with a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and regular exercise.

  3. Manage allergies Allergies can increase the risk of sinusitis. So, managing them with medication and avoiding exposure to allergens can prevent sinusitis.

Following these prevention tips can reduce your risk of developing acute sinusitis.

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Is acute sinusitis curable?

Yes, acute sinusitis is curable. In fact, this is the stage of sinusitis that is most easy to treat. Acute sinusitis is the starting sinusitis stage, which lasts for 15 days. During these 15 days, if we treat it properly, acute sinusitis gets cured. If untreated or partially treated, it might progress into the next stage of sinusitis. Along with medical treatment, we can use home remedies to speed up recovery.

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