Published Dec 12, 2023

How long does a sinus infection last?

Dr. Sudip Bose
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Sudip Bose
Close-up of calm Korean girl with smooth skin looking at camera with fingers on face.
Published Dec 12, 2023

Key Points:

  • Most sinus infections clear up in a week or two—but some can last up to 12 weeks or longer.
  • If your sinus infection lasts more than seven days, talk to a healthcare provider about available treatment options.

If you’re dealing with the pain, pressure and discomfort of a sinus infection, you probably want to know when you can expect to feel better. The answer is… it depends. While most sinus infections clear up on their own in a week or two, some can last a lot longer.

Read on to learn more about the different types of sinus infections, their causes, and forms of relief that can get you on the road to recovery.  Need solutions ASAP? Dr. B offers same-day online consultations with licensed providers, who can help you figure out which sinus infection treatments are right for your symptoms.

What’s a sinus infection?

The sinuses are air-filled chambers in your face that lead to the nasal passages. A sinus infection occurs when the sinuses swell and get blocked by fluid (mucus). The medical term for a sinus infection is sinusitis.

Sinus infection symptoms include:

  • Runny nose with yellow or green mucus
  • Stuffy nose and congestion
  • Pressure in your nose, forehead or behind your eyes
  • Pain or pressure in your teeth or ears
  • Bad breath
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Tiredness

Types of sinus infections

There are four main types of sinus infections. Some types last longer than others. In fact, sinus infections are classified depending on how long they last.

  • Acute sinusitis: Lasts less than four weeks
  • Subacute sinusitis: Sinus infections that last 4-12 weeks
  • Recurrent acute sinusitis: At least four acute sinus infections in one year 
  • Chronic sinusitis: Sinus infections that last more than 12 weeks

Why does it matter whether my sinusitis is viral or bacterial?

The cause of a sinus infection also affects how long you’re sick. That’s because how long a sinus infection lasts depends on whether it’s bacterial, viral, allergic or even fungal.

Allergic sinusitis: Allergens like pet dander, smoke, dust or polluted air can cause nasal congestion and inflammation (swelling) in the nasal passages and sinuses. This can lead to a sinus infection.

Viral sinusitis: Most sinus infections are caused by viruses, like the common cold virus or the influenza virus (the flu). These usually get better on their own in a week or two.

Bacterial sinusitis: Viral and allergic sinusitis can cause the sinuses to swell and fill with mucus. When this mucus can’t drain out, bacteria may grow inside the sinuses and cause a bacterial infection in the sinuses. These usually last longer than 10 days. If you were sick with a sinus infection, started to get better, and then suddenly started feeling worse again, you may have developed bacterial sinusitis.

Is it a sinus infection or…?

It can be hard to tell if you have a sinus infection or another kind of upper respiratory infection. But respiratory infections (like colds or the flu) are usually the cause of sinus infections. So it’s common to have a sinus infection and something else.

Sinus infections usually start after you’ve been sick with something for a while. If you have cold or flu symptoms for a week or two and later develop other symptoms—like tooth pain or facial pain or pressure—it’s likely you’ve developed a sinus infection.

Common cold: The common cold is caused by a virus. Colds cause congestion, headache, runny nose, cough and tiredness. Most people don’t get fevers when they have a cold. Colds are usually mild and get better in a week or two.

The flu: The flu causes many of the same symptoms as the common cold. But it often includes other tell-tale signs, like fever and muscle aches. The flu is more likely to come on suddenly and symptoms can be more intense compared to colds. Most people start feeling better after four or five days, but symptoms like tiredness can last several weeks.

Covid-19: Covid-19 can also cause congestion and headache. Symptoms can be mild or severe. But Covid-19 may also be accompanied by symptoms like chest pressure or difficulty breathing, or gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea.

How to get rid of a sinus infection

The right treatment will depend on the type of sinus infection you have and how long it’s been going on. Most of the time, it’s safe to recover at home with simple remedies like rest, plenty of fluids and breathing in warm steam from the shower or a bowl of hot water.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can relieve pain and help clear nasal passages. Talk to your provider or pharmacist about OTC options like Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen and saline nasal sprays.

Antibiotics are usually only prescribed for bacterial sinus infections that last longer than 10 days. Common first-line treatments include Amoxicillin-Clavulanate (Augmentin) and Cefpodoxime.

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When to get help for a sinus infection

Most sinus infections get better on their own. But if you’re still sick after 10 days—or if you’re in a lot of pain—talk to a provider.

Dr. B’s $15 online sinus infection consultations can connect you with a  licensed health provider. The consultation happens entirely online and providers review treatments within three working hours. If appropriate, they’ll send a prescription to your chosen pharmacy. Here’s more about How It Works.

Sources

Battisti, A.S., et al. (2022). Sinusitis. StatPearls.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Sinus infection (sinusitis).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Symptoms of Covid-19.

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