University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Britt Marcussen, MD
Assistant Professor of Family Medicine
First Published: 2000
Last Revised: September 2003
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
You're miserable. You've got a headache. Your nasal passages are
congested. Your eyes hurt. You've got a cough. You've probably got
While you're uncomfortable when it strikes, sinusitis is generally
harmless. Severe cases may require an antibiotic, but
over-the-counter remedies may relieve most of the symptoms.
What's the difference between sinusitis and the effects of a bad
cold? It is a matter of degrees. "Sinusitis is a clinical diagnosis,"
says Britt Marcussen, MD UI Family Care, North Liberty physician.
"You can probably find as many approaches to this conclusion as there
are doctors. A headache and colored nasal drainage does not mean
bacterial sinusitis. It may simply be a bad cold, which is
The most reliable clinical indicators of sinusitis are:
- Unilateral facial pain, usually below the eye
- Purulent nasal drainage
- Tooth pain
Viral upper respiratory infections typically last from seven to 10
days. If you have been sick longer than that, contact your
Prevention didn't work and you've got sinusitis. Here are some
self-care measures to try.
- Take hot baths and showers--the steam soothes your sinuses.
Don't inhale steam from a kettle, you may get scalded.
- Use a vaporizer at night to keep your nasal passages from
- Control your allergies. Use air-filtering vacuum cleaners and
- Drink more fluids.
- Acetaminophen/Tylenol or ibuprofen/Advil/Motrin may help
alleviate the pain caused by the pressure.
- Saline sprays or washes may help loosen and clear
- Antihistamines/Benadryl should be avoided because they make
the situation worse by drying the nasal passages and turning nasal
secretions to glue, making sinusitis a more likely complication of