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How to get rid of a sinus infection fast

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MedicationsComplicationsNatural remediesSummary
Many sinus infections resolve on their own. Warm compresses, pain relief medication, and avoiding irritants may help symptoms. Severe or persistent cases may need medical treatment to prevent complications.
Medically reviewed by Madeline Knott, MD
Written by Uxshely Carcamo
Updated on

A sinus infection affects the air-filled cavities behind your nose, forehead, and cheekbones called the sinuses. This infection may cause swelling, pain, and pressure in the sinus tissues.

Inflammation of the sinuses is also known as sinusitis. Sometimes, it is due to a sinus infection. Other times, the inflammation may be from reactions to irritants or allergens like pollen or dust.

Viruses often cause sinus infections. Bacteria or, occasionally, fungi may also be a cause.

Symptoms of a sinus infection may include:

  • stuffy nose
  • runny nose
  • pain or pressure in your face
  • headaches
  • mucus dripping down your throat (also known as a postnasal drip)
  • coughing
  • bad breath
  • sore throat

Infections can often have complications. It is advisable to contact a healthcare professional if you have a sinus infection.

Medications to treat a sinus infection  

Man on a couch feeling sick and in need to resolve a sinus infection fast
Photography by Visualspace/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that most sinus infections will improve without medication or treatment. But, it is important to contact a healthcare professional if you think you may have a sinus infection. 

The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology advises that by getting professional help, you can prevent possible sinus infection complications.

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Over-the-counter (OTC) medications

OTC medications may help you manage the symptoms of a sinus infection, although they won’t act on the root cause, whether that is bacteria, fungi, or viruses.

  • Facial pain and headaches: Pain relief medications may help you feel better while your infection clears. Some options include acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil).
  • Congestion and pressure: Short-term use of nasal sprays and decongestants, like oxymetazoline, may help with symptoms like runny or congested nose. However, experts advise you should not use sprays for more than 3 days.
  • Inflammation: Some OTC medications may help reduce the swelling in the membranes of your nose. Options can include medications like cetirizine (Zyrtec) and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed). The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) advises that these medications may have side effects like raising your blood pressure. Talking with a doctor before using these drugs is highly advisable.
  • Mucous: Some medications help the mucus in your sinuses to be less sticky and easier to clear. Mucolytics like guaifenesin (Mucinex) may help clear your nose and lungs.

Experts advise that antihistamines are not typically an effective treatment for sinus infections. They may prevent drainage of the mucus from your sinuses. Antihistamines may only be helpful short term if allergies cause sinus inflammation.

Prescription medications

A healthcare professional may prefer to use prescription medications for persistent sinus infections or those that last longer than anticipated. Some of these act on the root cause and may help to get rid of a sinus infection fast.

  • Antibiotics: If you have a bacterial infection, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics like amoxicillin (Amoxil), though they may wait a few days to monitor your infection to decide if antibiotics are suitable. If several rounds of antibiotics have not helped resolve the infection, a doctor may take a mucus sample from your nose to explore the root cause of your symptoms.
  • Antifungals: If a doctor suspects a fungus has led to your sinus infection, they may use antifungal agents. Options include ketoconazole (Extina) or itraconazole (Sporanox).
  • Corticosteroids: A steroid nasal spray like fluticasone (Flonase) may also help with sinus inflammation and relieve some of your symptoms if OTC drugs aren’t effective.

Viral infections will usually clear on their own. It is important to speak with your doctor if you have a sinus infection so they can advise on the most appropriate treatments for you.

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Complications of an untreated sinus infection

Sometimes, complications can arise from an untreated sinus infection:

  • An infection of the sinuses close to the brain may develop into a life threatening complication. While rare, an untreated severe sinus infection may spread to nearby tissues, including the brain.
  • Sinus infections may sometimes spread into bone and soft tissue. If this happens, the infection may cause cellulitis, an abscess, or vision loss.

Contacting a healthcare professional if your sinus infection does not resolve within days may help you prevent any complications.

Natural remedies for a sinus infection

Natural strategies may help you resolve a sinus infection fast but do not replace the need for treatment. These include:

  • Warm compresses: Placing a warm compress over your forehead and nose can relieve sinus pressure and headaches.
  • Steam: Inhale steam from a shower or bowl of warmer water until your sinuses clear, but for no more than 10 minutes.
  • Nasal rinse: Rinsing your nose with warm salt water can help with sinusitis. It is important to use filtered, lukewarm water that has been boiled or distilled and stored in a sanitized container.

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Many sinus infections clear up on their own. You may want to take some steps to manage your symptoms until the infection clears. Warm compresses, nasal rinsing, and steam can help improve the congestion. OTC pain relief, nasal sprays, mucolytics, and decongestants may also relieve symptoms until the infection clears.

If your infection is bacterial and isn’t resolving on its own, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. It can be helpful to speak with your doctor if you think you may have a sinus infection to put a treatment plan in place.

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