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Sinusitis is an infection or inflammation of the sinuses, which are the narrow air-filled spaces or channels inside the bones of the face.

As well as being located in the cheeks, sinuses are also in the forehead and around the eyes. Sinusitis occurs when too much mucus or a swelling of the sinus linings blocks these channels.

Sinusitis may be:
  • Acute, where symptoms respond to treatment in less than four weeks.
  • Subacute, where symptoms take longer to respond to treatment and last for four to eight weeks.
  • Chronic, where symptoms last for longer than eight weeks.

Sinusitis may also be classified as recurrent if it occurs more than three times in a year.


Symptoms of sinusitis may include:
  • Blocked nose
  • Thick nasal discharge
  • Pain, swelling and tenderness over the affected sinus
  • Headache (the terms ‘pressure headache’ or ‘stuffy head’ may be used)
  • The ears may also feel congested and may be painful, or hearing may be distorted
  • Fatigue
  • Post-nasal drip of thick mucus
  • Cough
  • Mucus may have a musty or foul smell and is commonly yellow- green in colour
  • Toothache
  • Fever or chill may be present.


Anything that causes the mucous membranes lining the sinuses to swell may lead to sinusitis, but the causes of acute and chronic sinusitis are usually different.

Acute sinusitis is usually due to an infection caused by either a virus or bacteria, which infects the sinuses – usually during a common cold – and starts to multiply. In response to the infection, the lining of the sinuses start to swell, blocking the channels that usually allow the sinuses to drain. This leads to the sinus cavities becoming filled with mucus, which causes symptoms.

In comparison, while infection can be a part of chronic sinusitis, it’s not typically the main cause. Instead, it’s usually prolonged inflammation that’s behind chronic sinusitis, often as a result of the sinuses reacting to other things in the environment, such as an allergy like hay fever or chlorine in a swimming pool.

As a result, there are certain risk factors that can increase someone’s likelihood of experiencing sinusitis. These include:

  • Catching common colds on a regular and frequent basis.
  • Being exposed to cigarette smoke.
  • Hay fever or other allergies
  • Using sprays designed to decongest the nose for too many days in a row, as these can contribute to swelling of the sinus lining.
  • Structural abnormalities or nasal polyps in the nose.
  • Dental problems


As well as avoiding the nasal sprays which can make symptoms of sinusitis worse, there are other things you can do to support your health.

If a bacterial infection is present, antibiotics may be prescribed, and these can speed up recovery. But antibiotics can also disrupt the friendly bacteria that reside in the bowel. Probiotics can help to rebalance the gastrointestinal flora after antibiotic use. If something is triggering your sinusitis, such as hay fever or a dental problem, speaking to a health professional is recommended. Likewise, if it’s caused by an irritant like chlorine, avoiding that irritant is wise.

Other ways to help manage sinusitis symptoms include using:

  • A humidifier to thin the mucus and promote drainage. Alternatively, fill your bathroom sink with hot water, then breathe in the steam while bending over the sink with a towel over your head to keep the steam from escaping. Be careful not to burn your face by putting your head too close to the water, or by using water that is too hot to tolerate.
  • A comfortably hot compress against the affected areas of the face.
  • Pain relief, if required.
  • A course of salt-water nasal drops, spray or nasal irrigation.

  • Important notes

    • If you have any concerns about your health, speak to your healthcare professional.
    • It is important to consult with your healthcare professional if symptoms persist for longer than seven days, or recur frequently.
    • If you have symptoms relating to COVID-19, seek health advice about getting tested

    Get free personalised advice from our team of qualified naturopaths here