Updated 31 July 2018

Will my sinusitis clear up or should I go to the doctor?

Swollen and inflamed nasal cavities can be soothed, but how long until the irritation starts all over again?

Sinusitis is a common inflammatory condition that affects the cavities around the nasal passages.

There are two variations of sinusitis: Acute and chronic. Acute sinusitis can usually be self-treated, while the chronic form requires medical assistance. 

Acute vs. chronic

Acute sinusitis is usually caused by a common cold or seasonal allergy and may resolve itself. Increased amounts of mucus and lack of drainage due to inflammation can cause infection, leading to sinusitis. 

Not all acute sinusitis involves bacterial infection and some forms may be viral. In these cases, over-the-counter remedies, fluids and rest should make you feel better in a few days. However, if you're left feeling ill and the condition lasts for more than a week with no improvement, you may need to consult a doctor and get prescription medication for relief.  

Chronic sinusitis often recurs and lasts for longer than 12 weeks. 

In both chronic and acute sinusitis the symptoms are the same. If you have chronic sinusitis, symptoms will just carry on for longer. 

According to National Center for Biotechnology Information, before a diagnosis of chronic sinusitis, doctors will look out for the following symptoms:

1. Drainage: Thick yellow or greenish discharge 

2. Nasal congestion: Affects breathing through the nose

3. Pain: Tenderness and swelling around the eye, cheeks nose or forehead 

Other symptoms to look out for:infographic, sinusitis

Only 50% of patients will have fever, but it remains an important factor in determining the severity of sinusitis.

When sinusitis is caused by allergies or hay fever and you start to feel ill, your first reaction should be to self-medicate, but as soon as you feel systematically ill, you should go to see a doctor, says Health24's CyberDoc Heidi van Deventer.

As mentioned above, the key factor in diagnosing chronic sinusitis is the duration of the symptoms. Chronic sinusitis symptoms lasting for 12 weeks or more should be cause for concern. 

"You can treat sinusitis for a few days, up to a week, but once you experience a fever, body aches or severe headaches you'll need to get antibiotics from your doctor," Dr van Deventer explains.

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

Sinusitis Expert

Dr Gary Kroukamp MBCHB, FCORL(SA) is an ENT Specialist, practising from rooms at Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont, Cape Town. He also has a teaching sessional appointment as an ENT Consultant at the Tygerberg Hospital. He is a member of the ENT Society of South Africa and the South African Cochlear Implantation Group. His interests in the ENT field include sinusitis and sinus surgery, nasal allergy and ENT conditions in children.

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