Thumbnail image of: Sinuses: Illustration

Sinus Infection: Teen Version

What is a sinus infection?

A sinus infection is a bacterial infection of one of the sinuses that normally drain into the nose. Congestion in a sinus commonly occurs when one of the sinus openings becomes blocked from a cold or hay fever. Sinus congestion usually goes away on its own without becoming an infection. If bacteria multiply within the sinus, a sinus infection can occur. The main symptom is facial pain (sinus pain). Other symptoms of a sinus infection are:

  • Swelling of the skin over the sinus
  • Fever that lasts more than 3 days or begins several days after you get a cold
  • Yellow/green nasal discharge lasting more than 14 days

Swallowing sinus secretions is normal and harmless but may lead to some nausea. Sinus infections can be diagnosed without needing sinus X-rays or a CT scan.

How can I take care of myself?

The following treatment should reduce pain and fever within 48 hours or less.

  • Antibiotics

    You need the antibiotic prescribed by your healthcare provider. This medicine will kill bacteria that are causing the sinus infection.

    Even though you will feel better in a few days, take the antibiotic until all the pills are gone to prevent the infection from flaring up again. Do not save the antibiotic for the next illness because it loses its strength.

  • Nasal washes

    Use warm water or saline nose drops or spray followed by nose blowing to wash dried mucus or pus out of the nose. Do nasal washes at least 4 times a day or whenever you can’t breathe through your nose.

  • Decongestant nose drops or spray

    If the sinus still seems blocked after the nasal washes, use long-acting decongestant nose drops or sprays. These are nonprescription items. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a brand. The usual dose for teens is 2 drops or sprays per side, twice a day.

    Before you use nose drops or a spray, clear your nose by sniffing or nasal suction. The openings to the sinuses are on the outer side of the nasal passages. Point the nasal spray in this direction. To deliver nose drops to the sinuses, put them in while you are lying on a bed with your head tipped back and turned to one side.

    Use nose drops or a spray for the first 2 or 3 days of treatment. Then don’t use them again unless the sinus congestion or pain comes back. The drops or spray must be stopped after 5 days to prevent rebound swelling.

  • Pain-relief medicines

    Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) for a few days for sinus pain or any fever over 102°F (39°C).

  • Oral antihistamines

    If you have hay fever, take your allergy medicine (antihistamine). Otherwise avoid using antihistamines because they can slow down the movement of secretions out of the sinuses.

  • Contagiousness

    Sinus infections are not contagious. You can return to school when you are feeling better and the fever is gone.

When should I call my healthcare provider?


  • Redness or swelling occurs on the cheek, eyelid, or forehead.
  • You start feeling very sick.


  • The fever or pain is not gone 48 hours after you start taking the antibiotic.
  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-06-03
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.

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