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Since some of the symptoms of a sinus infection are similar to other illnesses, people often misdiagnose themselves. In fact, a bacterial sinus infection is frequently thought to be no more than a common cold — that is — until it becomes quite uncomfortable and painful. That’s why knowing the many diverse symptoms of a sinus infection (sinusitis is the medical term) is very valuable, and can prevent you from needlessly suffering.

inflamed sinus infection

Sinusitis is just another word for “inflamed sinuses”. The infection by the virus or bacteria in sinusitis produces an inflammatory response. Blood rushes to the nose and carries inflammatory cells to fight the infection. This causes the tissue lining of the sinuses to swell.

Primary symptoms of a sinus infection

There are many symptoms of a sinus infection, the primary ones include:

Nasal congestion

A stuffed nose is one of the classic signs of a sinus infection. Although it is also the foremost symptom of a cold or allergic rhinitis as well. Worsening of congestion occurs when a sinus infection changes from viral to bacterial.

Yellow or green or gray mucus

Instead of clear mucus, there is a colored discharge from the nose or throat. This is another sign of a possible sinus infection. This mucous discoloration is caused by white blood cells fighting the infection and occur with both colds and bacterial sinusitis.

Partial loss of your sense of smell or taste

Although you can still detect when foods are sweet or salty, more subtle tastes and smells are difficult to distinguish. The swelling in the nose blocks odors from getting to the delicate smell receptors at the top of the sinuses near the brain. So, when you have a sinus infection, it’s not the best time to splurge on a very fine, expensive dinner.

Pain and pressure on your face

Congestion and the accumulation of mucopus when you have a sinus infection results in increased pressure on your nerves. Since the sinuses are cavities behind the forehead, nasal bones, cheeks, and eyes, these areas experience pain as well as a “heavy” feeling.

A cough with phlegm

Coughing up phlegm — which usually gets worse at night and in the morning — is one of the key symptoms of a sinus infection. This is because the sinuses drain down the back of your throat, especially when you lie down. Thicker colored phlegm is more consistent with sinusitis while thinner clear mucus is more likely acid reflux or a cold or allergies.

Additional symptoms of a sinus infection


Although fever may be one of the symptoms of a sinus infection, only about 25% of patients have fever associated with acute sinusitis. Acetaminophen is a good choice to help decrease fever and headache.

Bad breath

The colored discharge that build ups in your sinuses and nose, and then drips down into the back of your throat, is a cause of bad breath, halitosis. This unpleasant odor is the result of the organisms that cause the infection.

Tooth pain

Although your teeth seem to hurt when you have a sinus infection, this sensation isn’t usually caused by a dental problem. The pressure that builds up in the head only makes it feel that way. Sometimes, you can have a dental infection that drains into the cheek sinuses and can cause a sinus infection.

Loss of balance

Inflammation of the sinus membranes can obstruct the eustachian tubes which can disturb your sense of balance. When you move your head forward, the inflamed membranes and mucus make your head feel heavier. This changes the way your brain perceives the head position, and makes you feel off balance. The unequal swelling also throws off your balance. Medications, fatigue and dehydration can also give you the sense of imbalance.


Clogged sinuses and the resulting swelling and pressure may produce headaches. The inflammation  also tightens forehead, chewing and neck muscles, creating muscle tension in the area.

Pain when you move

Leaning forward or moving your head causes facial pain and pressure, and may be a sign of a sinus infection.

When the symptoms of a sinus infection call for a doctor

If you have a fever, a headache that over-the-counter pain relievers don’t alleviate, your mucous is discolored, or the symptoms of a sinus infection linger for more than 7 to 10 days, you may want to contact your doctor to find out if antibiotics are necessary. Most of the time, even without antibiotics, you should start feeling better within a week or so.