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About Sinus Infections

Sinus Infections

You know the feeling: runny nose, headache, sinus congestion. Is it just a cold? Or something more serious? If it’s a sinus infection, that’s a much more serious condition. And that’s why Medtronic works hard to develop more effective treatment methods for chronic sinus infections.


Your sinuses are bony, air-filled cavities inside your face and skull. A sinus infection, also called rhinosinusitis, is an inflammation of the soft tissues that line the sinuses.

There are two kinds of sinusitis. A short-term or acute sinus infection can occur after a cold, an allergy attack, or from pollutants in the environment. A long-term or chronic sinus infection is one that lasts longer than 12 weeks.


Health care professionals classify the causes of sinusitis this way:

  • Anatomical causes – such as a deviated septum or enlarged turbinates in your nose
  • Lifestyle choices – including pregnancy, working with children, and smoking
  • Inflammatory and infectious causes – related to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, as well as allergies and polyps
  • Developmental disorders – like cystic fibrosis
  • Tumours in the nose and sinuses – these can block critical drainage pathways

Why Do Sinus Infections Become Chronic?

Some people keep having sinus infections, despite repeated medications, surgeries, and other treatments.1-3 Research suggests that bacteria is the cause, and traditional therapies may not provide long-term relief for these patients.4-5


Sinus congestion, discharge, and pressure with facial pain or headaches could mean you have a cold. But if the discharge from your nose is yellow or discoloured, you may have a sinus infection.

Chronic sinus infections can reduce your quality of life and make you constantly tired. If you have asthma, sinus infections may make it worse.

Risk Factors

These factors can increase your risk of a sinus infection:

  • Swimming in polluted water exposes your sinuses to bacteria
  • Frequent contact with young children exposes you to a greater number of colds or bacterial infections
  • Smoking or second hand smoke thickens the tissue in your nose, slows down the flow of mucus, and allows bacteria to grow


To diagnose a sinus infection, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. He or she may tap areas of your face to find out if any sinus openings are tender. Sometimes a CT exam is useful as well.

If your symptoms don’t go away with the treatment your family doctor provides, you may be referred to a doctor who is an ENT specialist.  This ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist will use a nasal endoscope to look inside your nose for blockage. An endoscope is a very thin instrument with a light at the end of it, like a tiny telescope.



Cannady, et al. Comparison of delivery of topical medications to the paranasal sinuses via "vertex-to-floor" position and atomizer spray after FESS. Oto Head and Neck 2005; 133(5):735-740.


Ho CY, Chan KT. Effects of intranasal steroid spray in bacterial culture of chronic rhinosinusitis. Am J Rhinol Allergy 2009; 23(4): 405-408.


Hepworth EJ, et al. Nationwide survey on the use of image-guided functional endoscopic sinus surgery. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2006; 135(1): 68-73.


Jervis-Bardy J, Foreman A, Field J, Wormald PJ. Impaired mucosal healing and infection associated with Staphylococcus aureus after endoscopic sinus surgery. Am J Rhinol Allergy 2009; 23(5):549.


el-Fiky LM, Khamis N, Mostafa Bel D, Adly AM. Staphylococcal infection and toxin production in chronic rhinosinusitis. Am J Rhinol Allergy 2009; 23(3):264-267

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.