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Leah McCabe

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About Author — Leah likes writing about health and science subjects. Through her writing she hopes to help people of all backgrounds have equal access to information and quality healthcare.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog.

How Long Does a Sinus Infection Last?

The sinuses are small cavities located at different areas throughout the head, serving the purpose of protecting the nose and related structures from pollutants and microorganisms. When subject to an infection, the sinuses can become inflamed, causing pain, headaches, clogged or runny nose, and fever.

There are a variety of factors that can affect the duration of a bout of sinusitis – from the causative factor, to the sinus involved, and the treatment you use to address it. Understanding how all of these different aspects play a role in the condition can help you figure out the best course of action when dealing with this common infection.

The Different Sinuses

The modern usage of the word ‘sinusitis’ often refers to an infection in either one of two different sinuses. However, technically speaking, the word ‘sinusitis’ could possibly refer to an infection of any of the four sinuses.

  • Maxillary Sinuses – Located posteriorly to the cheekbone, the maxillary sinus is the largest of all four.
  • Frontal Sinuses – Positioned low and centered behind the forehead is the frontal sinus.
  • Ethmoid Sinuses – Between the eyes are the ethmoid sinuses.
  • Sphenoid Sinuses – The sphenoid sinuses arise in the area just behind the bones of the nose.

When a doctor gives you the diagnosis of ‘sinusitis’, he will often mean an infection of either the maxillary sinuses or the ethmoid sinuses. These are the most likely to become infected by the typical conditions that lead to sinus infection in the first place. A viral infection that might cause the common cold, for instance, will likely translate to sinus infection of the maxillary or ethmoid sinus later on.

An infection that isn’t addressed or relieved fast enough may often result in frontal sinusitis, as the causative agent spreads. That’s why it’s possible to experience pain in the area just above the eyes, or at the medial ends of the eyebrows, as your infection progresses.

The least common type of sinus infection is that which involves the sphenoid sinuses. Because of their location, these sinuses aren’t as accessible as the others, making them far less prone to infection. This is evidenced by the commonality of a sphenoid sinus infection – which is 2.7% of all sinus infection cases – that results from things like allergies, the common cold, and cleft palate.

Understanding which sinuses are infected will depict the extent to which an infection has progressed and a more accurate picture of duration. Newer infections that have yet to reach the frontal and sphenoid sinuses can be addressed and relieved faster since the infection hasn’t progressed.


The Causative Factor

Another important angle to consider when asking how long a sinus infection lasts is the causative factor. Sinusitis can be the result of a variety of conditions, some of which may need to be addressed before the infection can subside.
Here are some of the most common causes of sinus infections:

The Duration for Different Kinds of Sinusitis

Generally speaking, acute sinusitis such as those caused by the common cold, shouldn’t last any longer than 4 weeks. Most often, those who experience the occasional sinus infection should notice their symptoms starting to wane by the 2nd week, given that they’re observing the proper care and treatment.

If symptoms persist for 4 to 12 weeks, then you might have what doctors call a subacute sinus infection. In this case, it’s possible that the infection was not properly addressed or cared for, allowing it more time to progress and thrive in your system. Fortunately, subacute sinus infections aren’t considered as complications and may fully resolve as your body overcomes the foreign invader.

Individuals who experience 2 to 4 episodes of acute sinusitis in a year may have what doctors call recurrent acute sinusitis. This frequent, repeated incidence of sinus infection may be caused by seasonal allergies or anatomical anomalies concerning the structures near or involving the sinus.

Then finally, there’s chronic sinusitis which is characterized by sinus infections lasting beyond 12 weeks. For the duration of the infection, it’s possible that the symptoms may become milder although still present. There may or may not be exacerbations throughout the duration, and the issue may persist for months. Usually, doctors pinpoint allergies as the most likely causative factor for chronic sinusitis, however anatomical issues may also play a role.

Underlying issues like nasal polyps have been known to cause chronic sinusitis, but in some instances, the cause for chronic cases may also be environmental. For instance, someone who may have certain sensitivities to a pet’s fur without knowing it might continue to experience the symptoms of sinusitis for an extended period of time. Removing the irritant will often help relieve the condition completely.

Find Out More About Sinusitis

Whether acute, subacute, recurrent, or chronic, sinusitis can cause a significant impact on your daily life, impeding productivity and limiting functionality. If you’ve been struggling with the issue and are hoping to find a solution to the symptoms that it brings, it’s best to receive sound medical advice from a trustworthy professional.

At Plushcare, you can book a video diagnosis with one of our many medical doctors who can provide ample advice on your specific situation, including the right treatments and medication to help ease you through your bout of sinus infection.

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