ROCHESTER, Minn. — Sinus congestion and the common cold go hand in hand. Usually, congestion goes away within a week or so as the body fights off the illness. But sinus congestion and a feeling of sickness can linger and worsen, which may indicate a bacterial infection.
The October issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter covers sinus problems, including symptoms of a bacterial infection and when antibiotic treatment may help clear out the stuffiness.
Sinus inflammation (sinusitis) often begins with a cold, caused by a virus. When the sinuses become irritated and inflamed, sinus tissues swell. Expansion of these tissues can close off the ostia, the small openings that allow mucus to drain out of the sinus cavities. That blockage creates a feeling of stuffiness. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses and typically aren't recommended within the first week of developing a cold.
The stagnant, moist environment of a blocked sinus cavity gives bacteria a place to grow and thrive. If bacterial infection develops, antibiotics may have a role in treatment. It's tricky to determine whether sinusitis is caused by a virus or bacteria. The symptoms — congestion, facial pain, drainage of mucus, cough, headache and feeling unwell — can occur with both types of infections.
The likelihood of bacterial infection increases when:
Even without antibiotics, most people can fight off a bacterial infection, especially if symptoms are mild. About 70 percent of the time, symptoms of acute bacterial sinus infections go away within two weeks without antibiotics.
When sinusitis symptoms last seven to 10 days or more, it's a good idea to see a doctor to discuss treatment options.
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