SINUSITIS – What is it? What are the symptoms?

Sinus infection or sinusitis is the inflammation of sinuses. Sinuses are empty spaces inside our head and help to reduce its weight. They are lined by a mucus membrane and are usually filled with air. Symptoms due to sinus infection include nose block, nasal discharge, facial pressure, reduced sense of smell, tiredness, fatigue, pain behind the brows and post nasal drip. Not everyone will have all the symptoms, different people show different ones.

Sinuses open into the nose through a small vent. A separate vent is present for each sinus cavity. The vent gets blocked by infections, allergies and structural problems. Blockage, in turn, obstructs the entry of air into the sinus and promotes the growth of micro-organisms inside it. That’s how a sinus infection starts. Sinusitis affects millions of people worldwide and causes enormous sufferings.

We shall be discussing sinusitis in 5 parts, the first covering the types and symptoms, the second, causes and risk factors, the third, diagnosis and treatment, the fourth, home remedies and prevention, and finally, the fifth describing nasal polyps.

how many sinuses do we have? where are they located?

Every individual has four groups of sinuses in each side.

  1. Frontal sinuses lie behind the medial end of eyebrow on each side
  2. Maxillary sinuses are inside the cheek bone on each side
  3. Sphenoid sinuses are present deep inside the nose, above the throat
  4. Ethmoid sinuses are present on the sides of nose near the eyes

Not all sinuses are present right at birth. Some of them develop as the child grows. Even the ones which are present at birth redevelop and remodel as one grows.


Based on the duration and symptoms, we do have three types of sinusitis.


This type is mostly viral in origin. The infection starts after a common cold or flu and stays for a week or two. Bacterial infections can go up to 4 weeks and can be troublesome.

sub-acute sinusitis

This lasts between 4 to 12 weeks. Seasonal allergies, hypersensitivities or bacterial infections are usually present in patients suffering from sub-acute type of sinusitis.

chronic sinusitis

When the infection is present for more than 12 weeks, we call it chronic. Though the symptoms are less severe than an acute case, they last for a prolonged duration causing more suffering. Chronic sinusitis has a tendency to recur.


I had listed the symptoms of sinus infection earlier. Now we shall have a look at those in detail.


Sinusitis causes a dull ache behind the brows or behind the bridge of nose or over the cheek bone or deep inside the head. The pain is quite different from a normal headache or migraine. Moreover, the pressure type pain is usually accompanied by one or more of the other symptoms. Sinus headache may also manifest as earache and dental pain.

It is more in the mornings because of overnight collection of mucus in the sinus cavities. As you wake up and start with your daily routine, secretions get drained into the throat gradually due to gravity. Hence, you start feeling better as the day goes.

The sinus pressure makes one feel very lethargic and inactive in the mornings. It is a common cause of fatigue.


Sinus patients frequently complain of nose block and difficulty in breathing. Infection swells up the sinuses and nasal passages causing congestion. The problem is more in those who have nasal polyps. As a result, there is roughness of voice and decreased appreciation of smells.

nasal discharge

Thick tenacious nasal discharge accompanies the above symptoms in many patients. An acute sinusitis patient has a yellow or purulent discharge, whereas a chronic one has a thick white discharge. The mucus drips from the back of nose into the throat causing throat discomfort. Frequent post nasal drip, in turn, produces lump sensation in throat. In addition to that, the constant trickle produces itch, tickle, soreness in throat and cough.

Many patients complain of an irritating cough when they lie down. It disturbs their sleep and makes their voice hoarse the next day. Even if they don’t complain of any nasal problem we still rule out sinus infection as the post nasal drip causing the cough may be due to sinusitis.

reduced sense of smell and change of taste

Nasal congestion prevents the entry of odor molecules into the nose, thereby reducing the appreciation of smells. This, coupled with the constant post nasal drip, changes the taste of foods in mouth. Extensive nasal polyps block the nose completely and patients can’t smell anything at all.

other symptoms

The other symptoms frequently seen are sore throat, cough, throat irritation, dryness of throat and hoarseness of voice. Prolonged symptoms of allergy can occur along side sinusitis making the treatment difficult. Sinus patients often have fatigue and tiredness in the mornings even after a seemingly content sleep overnight.

WHEN SHOULD I GO TO my ent specialist?

Though the symptoms of viral and bacterial sinusitis are more or less the same, an acute bacterial sinus infection causes more pronounced symptoms. Fever, severe headache, greenish nasal discharge, redness around the eyes, and persistent symptoms for more than 14 days indicate a bacterial attack. Bacterial sinus infections need appropriate antibiotics to prevent complications and, so, you need to get a consult.

You must see your ENT immediately if you develop any of the following-

sinus infection symptoms
  1. Swelling around eyes or forehead
  2. Change of vision or Blurring of vision
  3. Severe fever
  4. Confusion or sudden lethargy
  5. Bleeding from nose
  6. Stiff neck
  7. Breathing difficulty

If you are unsure about the symptoms or need an expert advice on what to do then talk to us. If the symptoms of sinusitis are bothering you since a long time and the medicines are not effective, may be it’s time for you to try another mode of treatment. Talk to us to find out what is best for you.

  1. Healthline
  2. Pubmed Sinusitis

6 thoughts on “SINUSITIS – What is it? What are the symptoms?

    1. Thanks a lot Dr. Ramachandran!
      Our regards to you and your family.
      Dr. Mehak and Dr. Shyam

  1. Very well explained Dr Shyam and Dr Mehak. And not much medical terms used so that common people like me can easily understand. Thank you so much.

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