Sinusitis (sinus infection)

Sinusitis is swelling of the sinuses, usually caused by an infection. It's common and usually clears up on its own within 4 weeks. But medicines can help if it's taking a long time to go away.

Check if it's sinusitis

Sinusitis is common after a cold or flu.

The main symptoms of sinusitis include:

Other symptoms include:

You may also snore at night and sound nasal when you speak.

Young children may also be irritable, have difficulty feeding and breathe through their mouth.

What are the sinuses?

The sinuses are small, empty spaces behind your cheekbones and forehead that connect to the inside of the nose.

Sinusitis causes the lining of the sinuses to swell up.

This stops mucus draining into your nose and throat properly, making you feel blocked up.

How you can treat sinusitis yourself

You can often treat mild sinusitis without seeing a GP by:

How to clean your nose with a homemade salt water solution
  1. Boil a pint of water, then leave it to cool.
  2. Mix 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda into the water.
  3. Wash your hands.
  4. Stand over a sink, cup the palm of 1 hand and pour a small amount of the solution into it.
  5. Sniff the water into 1 nostril at a time. Breathe through your mouth and allow the water to pour back into the sink. Try not to let the water go down the back of your throat.
  6. Repeat the first 5 steps up to 3 times a day (making a new solution each time) until your nose feels more comfortable.

If you have a high temperature or you do not feel well enough to do your normal activities, try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people until you feel better.

A pharmacist can help with sinusitis

A pharmacist can advise you about medicines that can help, such as:

They can also provide other treatments if you need them, without you seeing a GP.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • you have sinusitis and are very unwell
  • painkillers do not help or your symptoms get worse
  • your symptoms do not get better after 3 weeks
  • you keep getting sinusitis

Treatment for sinusitis

If a GP thinks your sinusitis needs treatment, they may prescribe medicines such as:

Rarely, you may need antibiotics. This is not common as sinusitis is usually caused by a virus, not bacteria.

The GP may refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist if you:

The specialist may recommend surgery for some people.

Surgery for sinusitis

Surgery to treat chronic sinusitis is called functional endoscopic sinus surgery (FESS).

FESS is carried out under general anaesthetic (where you're asleep).

The surgeon can widen your sinuses by either:

Page last reviewed: 31 January 2024
Next review due: 31 January 2027