/ Sinus Infection
Bacterial Sinus Infection

Bacterial Sinus Infection

Painful pressure behind the eyes and cheeks, a stuffy nose, and post-nasal drip - are symptoms all too familiar for the more than 30 million Americans who suffer from sinus infections every year. Also known as sinusitis, viral and bacterial sinus infections account for 16 million doctor visits annually, and are the number one reason for doctors to prescribe antibiotics.

Alarmingly, 85% of sinus infections will clear up on their own, without antibiotics, meaning the vast majority of patients coming to their doctors for treatment most likely do not need to be taking antibiotics at all.

Most cases of sinusitis are viral and caused by the common cold. This means that taking antibiotics will not treat your infection, but will instead cause your body to experience the negative symptoms of antibiotics while aiding bacterial resistance, making you more vulnerable for bacterial infections in the future. For these reasons, it is extremely important to only take antibiotics for a sinus infection if you know you need them. A doctor can help you figure this out.


If you’ve just come down with sinusitis symptoms, it’s best to implement a few changes at home yourself and monitor your symptoms before contacting a doctor. Some methods you can use to help ease symptoms and encourage healing include:

  • Saline Nasal Spray. Spray into your nose several times a day to rinse out nasal passages.

  • Decongestants. Over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant medication in the form of liquids, pills and nasal sprays can be used in the first few days of your infection, making it easier to breath.

  • OTC pain relievers. Aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil) will calm inflammation in your nasal passages.

  • Steam. Inhaling steam via a humidifier, taking a hot shower, or hovering your face over a steaming pot of water will break up congestion, calm inflammation and help relax congested and inflamed nasal passages allowing you to breathe more easily.

  • Essential oils. Many have turned to essential oils such as tea tree, peppermint and eucalyptus oil for sinus infections due to their antimicrobial properties. Anecdotal accounts report the use of essential oils alleviating symptoms of sinusitis, and eucalyptus is a key ingredient of the classic, over-the-counter Vicks VapoRub. If you do choose to use essential oils, make sure your oils are safe and that you do not exceed the recommended dosage.

  • Rest! Whether you’re suffering from a bacterial or viral sinus infection, getting adequate sleep is critical to helping your body recover and fight infection.

How do I know if I have a bacterial or viral sinus infection?

It’s tricky. Symptom-wise, reliably distinct symptoms of bacterial vs. viral sinusitis don’t exist. The main way doctors determine the nature of your infection is based on duration and a few other markers.

Viral sinus infections tend to worsen in the first few days and start to improve towards the end of the first week.

Bacterial sinus infections will carry on well past a week, often getting worse in the 7-10 day range.

Most acute sinus infections, whether viral or bacterial, will improve or even clear on their own without antibiotics within one to two weeks. That means that, depending on your immune system and environmental factors, your body may be able to fight off a bacterial infection without antibiotics. 15% of people will not be able to naturally fight bacterial sinusitis, so it’s important to monitor your symptoms closely.

When to see a doctor:

If you experience your condition worsening a second time after the first week of symptoms, this is an indicator of bacterial infection. This is known as “double-worsening,” and is common in bacterial sinus infections. Another symptom of bacterial sinusitis is having thick, colorful nasal discharge or facial sinus pressure that persists longer than 10 days. Either of these scenarios meet the criteria for antibiotic treatment. Should you experience one or both of them, contact your doctor about getting antibiotics.

Allowing an infection to carry on too long without antibiotic treatment could damage your mucous membranes and make you more vulnerable to infection in the future. Or worse, it could lead to complications as serious as a brain abscess.

It’s important to find the line between potential antibiotic misuse and infection complications, so physicians generally encourage “watchful waiting,” that is, carefully observing your symptoms and seeking treatment if things either get worse or fail to improve within two weeks time.

If you think you’re suffering from a bacterial infection in need of antibiotic treatment, you can schedule an appointment with a PlushCare doctor online or by phone at 888-798-0620. Appointments with top-trained, licensed physicians are available every 15 minutes, generally lasting 15 minutes or less.

Your doctor will provide you with a diagnosis and any antibiotic or medication you may need to treat your sinusitis. Prescriptions will then be electronically sent to the pharmacy of your choice, allowing you to get the treatment you need without a trip to the doctor’s office or urgent care center. Learn more about how our online doctors visits and what else we treat, here.

Read More About Bacterial Sinus Infection

Can a Sinus Infection Go Away Without Antibiotics?
Sinus Infection Remedy
Best Medicine for Sinus Infection

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Jillian Stenzel

Jillian Stenzel

A Nevada-bred traveler & food nerd who dances & eats spinach, sometimes simultaneously. She writes from wherever her curiosity demands, and is passionate about spreading the wisdom of better health.

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