Early Signs of a Sinus Infection

A sinus infection occurs when the walls of the sinus cavity become inflamed, trapping mucus within the cavity, causing infection to set in, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most sinus infections are the result of seasonal allergies or the common cold. Knowing what early signs to look for can help you avoid developing a chronic sinus infection. The Mayo Clinic claims that most acute sinus infections clear up on their own, by using over-the-counter (OTC) medications. The most common early signs of a developing sinus infection are nasal congestion, sinus pressure and postnasal drip. Talk to your doctor before taking any medication.

A man suffering from sinus pressure with his hands around his nose. Credit: nebari/iStock/Getty Images

Nasal Congestion

Nasal congestion is commonly misunderstood as excess mucus in the sinus cavity. Nasal congestion is a combination of swollen, inflamed sinus membranes and excess mucus production. At the beginning stages of a sinus infection, the sinus cavity becomes irritated--swelling and cutting off normal airflow and proper drainage. The first signs of nasal congestion may come in the form of a runny nose, stuffy nose or constant sneezing. Combat nasal congestion by taking an OTC decongestant such as phenylephrine (Sudafed PE). The decongestant will restrict blood flow to the inflamed sinuses, reducing swelling and providing proper drainage to prevent the sinus infection from developing further.

Sinus Pressure and Pain

As the sinus cavity swells, it places excessive pressure on the surrounding parts of the head such as the eyes, the ears and the teeth, according to the University of Maryland's Medical Center. The sinus pressure may manifest itself as pain or sensitivity in these areas. Sinus pressure may also cause swelling under the eyes or around the cheeks. Sinus pain usually worsens if you stand up quickly or bend down. At the first sign of sinus pressure or pain, take an OTC decongestant (phenylephrine) and anti-inflammatory pain reliever such as ibuprofen or aspirin. The anti-inflammatory pain reliever will reduce swelling and provide relief to the sinus headache.

Postnasal Drip

Postnasal drip is a condition where mucus drips in the back of throat and is an early sign of a sinus infection. Postnasal drip is commonly caused by allergies or a cold, but is an early sign that the sinus cavity is beginning to respond by producing mucus. Postnasal drip may cause a person to develop a sore throat, chest congestion or a sour stomach due to the excessive mucus being discharged. Postnasal drip is treated by taking an OTC decongestant or an antihistamine (if it is related to allergies) such as loratadine (Claritin).

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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