Symptoms of Sinusitis

Written by Dr Sinus

Topics: sinus infection symptoms

Symptoms of sinusitis

Sinusitis as a term covers the inflammation, blockage and infection of any or all of a group of sinuses within the head – the paranasal sinuses.

Severity and treatment of the symptoms of sinusitis depends on which sinus is affected, whether the sinusitis is acute, chronic or recurring and if there are any additional complications.

Because the symptoms of sinusitis are be same as a number of dangerous illnesses it is always advisable to see your family doctor if symptoms persist or get worse.

What are the principal symptoms of sinusitis?

Blocked infected sinuses cause pressure headaches – dull constant aching with occasional sharp pains, where the uncomfortable feeling of pressure and pain often worsens when bending over or lying down or if the sufferer tries to relieve nasal congestion by blowing their nose. Sinus headaches may have a very similar feeling to migraine headaches and it is often difficult to tell the two apart – although sinus headaches tend to me more localised.

Facial pain and tenderness
Infected sinuses will cause facial pain and tenderness coupled with an uncomfortable feeling of pressure. This pressure will be localised to the sinus concerned, starts on a single side of the face but spreads to both sides. Maxillary sinuses cause pain / pressure in the cheek and lower eye, which can spread to the teeth. Frontal sinuses cause pain and pressure headaches above the eyes, on the brow and within the forehead. Ethmoid sinuses cause pain and pressure between and behind the eyes, with the sphenoid sinuses also causing pain in this area, with added pressure and tension at the top of the skull.

Dental pain
What starts as pain in the cheek can rapidly become toothache – the maxillary sinus (the most commonly infected sinus) regularly causes throbbing or sharp toothache within the teeth, jaw and sometimes lower jaw. A complication can be the infection moving into the tooth roots and bone.

Sufferers often become tired due to broken sleep patterns caused by pain when lying down and changing sleeping position in the night. The constant throbbing pain may also cause feelings of depression which also adds to the fatigue. Finally sinusitis regularly comes at the tail end of colds, flu and bronchial infections, at a time when the body is already run down.

Bad breath
The sinuses continually discharge mucus into the nose, mouth and throat. Once the sinus becomes blocked and infected the mucus can become green or yellow and develop an unpleasant odour, which is then exhaled as bad breath. Another reason for bad breath is in cases of sinusitis where there is dental pain, the last thing the sufferer wants to do is brush their teeth.

Loss of hearing
Sinus infections may cause inner ear problems such as dizziness, vibrating sensations or ringing in the ear (tinnitus) and reduced clarity of hearing. The inner ear can become infected causing earache and worsening symptoms as above.


Infection of the eye socket – which may result in loss of sight.
Infection of the forehead and other facial bones.
Infection of the brain.
Altered consciousness.
Blood clots within the brain.
Meningitis, coma and even death.

(click for more detail on the symptoms of infections in each sinus)

Full Symptoms of Sinusitis

Sinusitis may include a combination of some or all of the following symptoms

  • Thick colored post nasal drainage or dripping
  • Nasal discharge
  • Congested nasal passages
  • Sneezing
  • Alteration or loss of sense of smell
  • Headache
  • Facial pain
  • Facial pressure
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Hoarseness
  • Halitosis
  • Cough
  • Irritability
  • Clicking in ears
  • Stuffiness or blockage felt in ears
  • “Heavy” head
  • Sluggishness

When to call the doctor

If you experience any of these symptoms, you could have a medical emergency and should seek immediate medical evaluation.

Headache, fever, and soft tissue swelling over the frontal sinus can indicate an infection of the frontal bone. This is called osteomyelitis and as a complication is usually limited to children.

Ethmoid sinusitis can cause infection within the eye socket, where the eyelid may swell and become droopy. Vision changes are rare, but can be signs of serious complications. Fever and severe illness are usually present with an infected eye socket and someone with this infection may lose the ability to move the eye. Ultimately, permanent blindness may result.

Ethmoid or frontal sinusitis may cause a blood clot to form around the front and top of the face. Symptoms may be similar to those of eye socket infection with the added symptom of a dilated pupil. This condition usually affects both sides of the face.

If a person experiences mild personality changes, neck stiffness, high fever, altered consciousness, visual problems, or seizures, infection may have spread to the brain. Coma and death may follow.

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