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eMed previously Babylon Health

Acute sinusitis

Reviewed by Dr Keith Grimes, 29th July 2019

Acute sinusitis is Inflammation of the lining of the paranasal sinuses (a cluster of pockets in the skull that lie around the nose), that usually lasts up to 4 weeks, sometimes up to 12 weeks. Chronic sinusitis is sinusitis that lasts longer than 12 weeks. Some people have recurrent acute sinusitis infections a few times a year.


Sinusitis is usually caused by a virus. The virus occasionally affects the sinuses in such a way that they become more susceptible to bacterial infections, although this only occurs in 0.5-2% of cases.1

Risk factors

You are more likely to have acute sinusitis if you:

  • Smoke
  • Have diabetes
  • Have asthma or allergies
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Have a problem with your nose, such as a deviated septum, nasal polyps, some trauma to the nose or a foreign object stuck up the nose.

Typical Symptoms

  • Blocked nose for less than 4 weeks
  • Clear or yellow mucus coming from the nose
  • Pain or pressure in the face that is worse when bending forward
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Feeling of fullness in the ears

Common Treatment

Treatment usually involves rest and self-care measures. Ask your local pharmacist for their recommendation, which would usually include:

  • Common painkillers
  • Irrigation of the nose (you can buy nasal irrigation devices from a pharmacy or do it yourself)

As mentioned earlier, in 0.5-2% of cases, sinusitis can become bacterial. If symptoms continue for 10 days or you’re concerned that you’re getting worse, book a digital consultation with a GP. Under some circumstances the GP would prescribe:

  • Antibiotics
  • Nasal steroid spray

When to speak to a doctor

Sinusitis can often be managed at home and without speaking to a doctor, however it is important to speak to a doctor if you have:

  • Worsening symptoms
  • Symptoms that last longer than 10 days
  • A high fever that isn’t improving with over the counter treatment
  • Eye pain, especially with eye movements
  • Eyelid swelling and redness
  • Double vision
  • Confusion or decreased consciousness
  • Neck stiffness
  • A chronic health condition such as diabetes or asthma

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Sinusitis can be managed and prevented by:

  • Washing hands after contact with people that have a cold
  • Stopping smoking
  • Treating conditions that increase the risk of acute sinusitis, such as diabetes or asthma

More information



  1. Gwaltney, J.M. (1996) Acute community-acquired sinusitis. Clinical infectious diseases 23(6), 1209-1223. [Abstract]

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.