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Updated 5 March 2022 | Approved By

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Sinusitis – Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment


What is Sinusitis?

Sinusitis is a condition caused by sinus inflammation. Another term is rhinosinusitis because most conditions will also be accompanied by inflammation around the nose. More than 1.9 million Australians will be affected by some form of sinusitis [1]. Paranasal sinuses are pockets of empty spaces that lie behind our nose and eyes. They are coated with a thin layer of mucus to help humidify and filter the air to breathe (e.g. bacteria, viruses, etc.).These sinuses will drain mucus and fluid to ensure that they continue to function. Those living with sinusitis can experience a blocked sinus(es), leading to problems such as breathing and facial discomfort.

Acute vs. chronic sinusitis

Sinusitis can be classified as either acute or chronic. While symptoms are similar, the causes may vary depending on your circumstances. Additionally, acute sinusitis will only last for a short period and usually only span up to 4 weeks. On the other hand, chronic sinusitis can last more than 12 weeks [1]. Your GP may also prescribe different treatments depending on whether the condition is either acute or chronic.

Sinusitis Symptoms

Those living with sinusitis can experience two or more of these symptoms below. However, always consult your GP for a complete diagnosis.
  • Blocked nose
  • Leaking and runny nose
  • Discoloured discharge from the nose (e.g. yellow/green)
  • Post-nasal drip (i.e. fluids running down the back of your throat)
  • Pain and pressure around the face
  • Loss or reduced sense of smell
  • Fever and coloured discharge from the nose (if you have a bacterial infection)

What does sinusitis feel like?

For people living with sinusitis, it can be difficult to describe these symptoms. As one of Australia’s leading telehealth services, we also look online to see how people commonly describe their sinusitis through plain language. Examples of some:
  • “Sore inside nose”
  • “Sinus headaches”
  • “Congested nose”
  • “Sinus pain”
  • “Yellow mucus” or “yellow snot”
  • “Green mucus”


Sinusitis Causes

Causes of sinusitis can vary depending on what type and how long they have been there. As noted above, the causes of acute and chronic sinusitis can vary.

Acute Sinusitis

Acute sinusitis is most commonly caused by sinus infection(s) from viruses [2]. Examples include rhinovirus (also known as the common cold) and influenza. Other causes include bacterial and fungal infections. Inflammatory changes in these sinuses begin to occur if they cannot remove these invading bodies from the nasal passages [2].

Chronic Sinusitis

Similar to acute sinus infections, this chronic sinusitis is also usually caused by viruses and bacteria. However, there may be a combination of other individual factors and conditions that contribute to its origins [3]. Examples include:
  • Hay fever (also known as allergic rhinitis)
  • Environmental pollutants (e.g. workplace exposure, cigarette smoke, etc.)
  • Structural deformities in the sinus or nasal passage (e.g. deviated septum, polyps, etc.)
  • Being immunocompromised (e.g. AIDS/HIV, cancer, etc.)
  • Underlying respiratory conditions (e.g. bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, etc.)


Is Sinus Infection Contagious?

Sinusitis can be contagious depending on what has caused the sinus infection. For most people, this condition is caused by either a virus or bacteria. In these circumstances, having sinusitis is a sign that you may be contagious. Good hygiene practices should be followed, including regularly washing hands and avoiding close contact (e.g. kissing, hugging, holding hands, etc.) [4]. Sinus infections from other origins, such as hay fever, allergies or structural deformities, may not be contagious. It’s recommended to consult your GP about your condition and symptoms.

Tests and Diagnosis

Most sinusitis conditions can be diagnosed through formal medical screening and examination by a GP. However, complicated or chronic episodes may require further testing to determine whether there may be other causes of these symptoms.

Nasal Endoscopy

This is a procedure performed by specially trained doctors to see what may be happening inside the nose visually. Endoscopes are long and thin tubular instruments that are inserted into the body. At the end are cameras that connect to a monitor to help the user diagnose any potential condition causes.

Sinus CT Scan

A CT scan is an imaging technique also used to visualise what could be causing your sinusitis. Detailed 3D scans of the sinus can help pick up any abnormalities. You can read more about our CT scan patient guides by clicking here.

Allergy Testing

Allergy testing, such as skin and blood tests, can also look for any allergies that might contribute to persistent sinusitis.

Sinusitis Treatment

Sinusitis treatments will depend on the causes and origins of your condition. Always consult your GP before using any medication or other treatments.

Pain Relief

Facial pain is a common condition associated with sinus infections. Your GP may recommend pain relief medication to help ease symptoms [1].


Decongestants are medications that help with congestion by unblocking the nose. These can be taken in tablets, pills, liquids and nasal spray form [1].

Nasal Saline Irrigation

Washing the sinuses or nasal passages with a saline solution can help unblock the nose. It works by removing old mucus, clearing out the sinuses and keeping the mucous moist. Improper usage can lead to side effects, such as bleeding in the nose and infection. Always ask your GP and/or pharmacist before using.

Antibiotics for Sinus Infection

While most people with acute sinusitis will recover on their own, your GP may also prescribe antibiotic medications. However, not everyone will require antibiotics. The indicated course of medications need to be taken as suggested by your GP [5]

Other Treatments

GPs may also recommend other treatments, depending on the symptoms and cause of the sinusitis [3][4].
  • Nasal steroids
  • Allergy medications
  • Strategies to avoid triggers
  • Surgical referral



Most people with acute sinusitis will make a full recovery. However, rare fungal infections are dangerous and require urgent medical treatment [3]. Those with chronic sinusitis may need testing to determine the origin of the symptoms. Treatments can then be prescribed to assist recovery [4].


Complications from sinusitis are extremely rare and occur in roughly 1 in every 1000 people [3]. Sinus infections can spread to other areas around the face, including the eyes, bone and brain. Examples of complications that can arise include [6][1]:
  • Meningitis
  • Cavernous sinus thrombosis
  • Epidural abscess
  • Orbital cellulitis
  • Pott’s puffy tumour
Additionally, sinusitis from fungal infections [8] requires urgent treatment as further complications and even death are risks.

Receiving quality care from highly experienced doctors is essential for a prompt diagnosis and receiving the correct medical treatment. With 24-7 MedCare, you can experience telemedicine from the convenience of your own home. Our friendly online doctors will be available 24/7 for a consultation, anytime and anywhere in Australia.

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  2. DeBoer DL, Kwon E. Acute Sinusitis. [Updated 2021 Aug 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:
  3. Kwon E, O'Rourke MC. Chronic Sinusitis. [Updated 2021 Aug 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:
  5. Aring, A. M., & Chan, M. M. (2011). Acute rhinosinusitis in adults. American family physician83(9), 1057-1063.
  6. Cho, H. J., Jang, M. S., Hong, S. D., Chung, S. K., Kim, H. Y., & Dhong, H. J. (2015). Prognostic factors for survival in patients with acute invasive fungal rhinosinusitis. American journal of rhinology & allergy29(1), 48-53.