Sinusitis. Purulent inflammation of the para nasal sinuses. A low-poly model of interconnected lines and points. Blue background.

How Long Does A Sinus Infection Last?

Posted by jsavage on Apr 16, 2023
Written by Staff Writer, Reviewed by Dr. Jonathon Savage, DO, Emergency Physician

Sinusitis, more commonly known as a sinus infection, is commonly caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It is also often from seasonal or environmental allergies such as pollen or pet dander. In rare cases, it can be caused by a fungus. This last situation is more common in individuals with diabetes, HIV, or another medical issue that causes a weakened immune system.

Every year, sinusitis affects 31 million Americans, and it can result in many uncomfortable symptoms. Today, our medical professionals at Care on Location are answering some of the most frequently asked questions about this condition, including how long a sinus infection lasts and how I can feel better faster

If you have a viral sinus infection, your symptoms should improve in nine to 10 days. If you develop an acute bacterial sinus infection, your symptoms may last up to eight weeks, and you may need to take a full course of antibiotics. If you're wondering how long a sinus infection lasts, you should understand that the answer depends heavily on what type of infection you have.

Does how long my infection is lasting mean anything?

There are four types of sinus infections - acute, subacute, chronic, and recurrent. Acute sinusitis symptoms last less than a month and will improve with proper care. Subacute sinusitis will not respond to treatment quickly and lasts up to three months. Chronic sinusitis symptoms are those lasting longer than 3 months. Recurrent sinusitis is if you get a sinus infection four or more times annually.

It does matter how long your symptoms are lasting or how often they come back. When your acute sinusitis will not go away, it is time to get checked out a little closer. The longer it lasts and the more it keeps coming back, it will be important to look further into the underlying reason for your symptoms. These longer and more frequent episodes often require seeing an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist(otolaryngologist).

What Are the Most Common Sinus Infection Symptoms?

There are several symptoms that suggest sinus inflammation or infection. Some people only have a symptom or two, and others feel like they have them all. These symptoms include:

  • Facial pain or pressure
  • Nasal congestion
  • Swollen nasal passages
  • Runny nose or clear, green, or yellow discharge
  • Tooth pain
  • Ear pain
  • Mucous dripping into the back of the throat
  • Bad breath
  • Decreased ability to smell
  • Sometimes fevers and chills

What Is the Difference Between a Viral and Bacterial Sinus Infection?

Viral causes of sinus infections are usually caused by rhinoviruses, influenza(the flu), and parainfluenza. But there are several other types of viruses that can cause the symptoms too. Viruses are often associated with other common cough and cold symptoms such as ear fullness, sneezing, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, and more. While over-the-counter medications can help with some of the symptoms, antibiotics will not be helpful in these situations. Viruses are very small and easily spread, so avoiding spreading germs is very important.

Bacterial sinus infections on the other hand are somewhat hard to spread because they are larger. However, it is still very important to avoid spreading any bacterial infection you have. While these infections may be harder to spread, they also are associated with more severe bad situations, such as pus collections in the sinuses, the spreading of the infection through the bone of the skull to the brain causing meningitis, or getting into the bloodstream. Symptoms are often overlapping with viruses with the exception that bacterial infections may be more likely to trigger fevers and chills which may be a sign of complications.

What Can Cause a Sinus Infection to Last Longer Than Expected? 

Many factors can cause a sinus infection to last longer than expected, including allergies and smoking. If your sinus infection has lasted over two months, you should not be surprised if there is an environmental factor affecting your health. 

What Causes Chronic Sinusitis? 

Chronic sinusitis is usually caused by hay fever or another type of allergy, but allergies aren't the only cause of this condition. You also may develop chronic sinusitis if you have nasal polyps or a deviated nasal septum. Additionally, viral or bacterial respiratory tract infections can cause chronic sinus infections. Other causes of chronic sinus infections include: 

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • HIV
  • Asthma

What Can I Do to DECREASE My Risk of Developing Chronic Sinusitis? 

One of the most effective steps you can take to lower your risk of developing chronic sinusitis is to take steps to avoid upper respiratory infections. Limit contact with people suffering from an infection, like a cold or the flu, and wash your hands with antibacterial soap and hot water frequently. Additionally, you should limit your exposure to allergens as much as possible. If allergen avoidance is impossible, talk to your doctor about how you can best manage your symptoms. 

Another effective step you can take to reduce your chance of developing chronic sinusitis is to avoid air contaminants. Air contaminants include second-hand smoke and air pollution from car exhaust. Finally, you should use a humidifier if the air in your house is dry. This is particularly important if your home is heated with forced hot air in the winter. 

What Can I Do to Feel Better Faster? 

The American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology notes numerous treatment options that may help you feel better if you have a sinus infection. If you have thick discharge, you can ease some nasal passage pressure by using a nasal saline rinse. If an allergic reaction caused your symptoms, antihistamines can help open up your sinus and nasal passages. Consult a doctor before taking an over-the-counter drug that contains both an antihistamine and a nasal decongestant; some thicken mucus and worsen symptoms due to drying agents. 

Furthermore, the Cleveland Clinic notes that drinking at least half a gallon of hydrating fluids and getting plenty of rest is also important for rapid sinusitis recovery. If you are experiencing sinus swelling, an over-the-counter NSAID, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can provide you with relief. However, you should not exceed the maximum recommended daily dosage.

See our "Can't Take the Pressure? How to Care for Sinus Infection or Inflammation" article to learn about more ways to start taking care of yourself at home.

What Are the Signs of a Sinus Infection Getting Better? 

You will know that your sinus infection is getting better when your symptoms start to improve significantly. You may notice that you don't feel as fatigued as you did when you got sick. You also may notice that you can breathe more easily, and you should experience sinus pressure relief eight or more hours after taking your last decongestant.


Generally, you should schedule an appointment with a doctor if you have severe symptoms, such as a fever over 102 degrees, persistent facial pain that has lasted for at least 72 to 96 hours, or thick, yellow discharge that gets worse over time. Even if your symptoms are mild or moderate, you should seek a doctor's care if they do not get better within 10 days of their onset. Additionally, Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that you should see a healthcare provider as soon as possible if you experience: 

  • Difficulty thinking
  • Stiffness in your neck
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Changes to your vision
  • Red or swollen eyes

What If I Can't Get an Appointment With My Doctor? 

If you cannot get an appointment with your primary care physician promptly, or you don't have a primary care physician, you should still seek advice from a medical professional. If you cannot see a doctor promptly in person, a telemedicine provider can help you treat your sinus infection quickly. 

Can an Online(telemedicine) Doctor Diagnose and Treat Me?

Yes, the diagnosis of sinus infections is generally made by asking a series of questions to help determine the likely cause of the infection. There usually is no testing needed during the initial evaluation. The doctor will walk you through performing a few physical exam procedures on yourself, such as pushing or tapping on the different areas on your face to determine which one of your several sinus cavities is causing the problem. After an online video evaluation, a telemedicine doctor can make the determination of a sinus infection as well as an in-person doctor and help you determine the proper treatment.


Have you had persistent sinusitis symptoms for at least the past 10 days? Did you have symptoms of a viral infection that started to improve and then got worse? Have you had facial pain that has lasted for at least three to four days or other severe symptoms, like a fever exceeding 102 degrees or a thick yellow discharge that has been getting progressively worse? If so, schedule a telehealth appointment with Care on Location today

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