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What Are the Symptoms of a Sinus Infection in an Adult?

What Are the Symptoms of a Sinus Infection in an Adult?


In general, sinusitis is any inflammation of the sinuses, caused by bacterial infection. However, the symptoms of a sinus infection, also known as nasal congestion or rhinosinusitis, are often confused with the symptoms of the common cold virus or the flu. The variance in definitions and perceptions related to sinus infections in the past, have added to this confusion, even in the medical industry.

To avoid further confusion, medical societies such as the American Rhinologic Society, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and the American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy agreed to replace the term sinusitis with rhinosinusitis to make the diagnosing of symptoms more clear cut and precise. To distinguish rhinosinusitis from cold or flu symptoms caused by viral infection, take note of the following symptoms that will be discussed below.

Common Sinusitis Symptoms

When an individual experiences sinusitis, he will notice a yellow to yellowish-green nasal discharge that accompanies the nasal congestion. This discharge is thick, as compared to the runny discharge that accompanies a cold or an allergy attack. Facial pain, dental pain, ear pain, fever, a feeling of fatigue or intense weakness is also commonly experienced along with the thick nasal discharge. And because the senses are impaired, the individual will not have an appetite and will have an unpleasant breath or halitosis. These symptoms of sinusitis are experienced for one to two weeks, often after the onset of a cold.

Very Important Symptoms

According to Dr. Howard Levine, MD of the American Rhinologic Society, to be diagnosed as having sinusitis, it is not sufficient to just have one of the symptoms as enumerated above. Levine says that sinusitis is only present when he has a combination of either two “very important symptoms” or “one very important and two less important symptoms”.

Those that he classified as very important symptoms are facial pain, facial congestion, nasal obstruction, thick and yellow to green discharge, and impaired sense of taste and/or smell. Meanwhile, less important are symptoms of fatigue, bad breath, fever, and dental pain.

Types of Sinusitis Based on the Presence of Symptoms

When sinus infection or rhinosinusitis infections are present for more less than four weeks, it is called acute sinusitis. Symptoms that are present for more than four but less than twelve weeks are diagnosed as subacute rhinosinusitis, and those who are infected for more than twelve weeks are categorized as having chronic sinusitis. Meanwhile, sinusitis episodes that occur four times or more in one year are called recurrent acute rhinosinusitis, and an acute infection right after a chronic infection is called acute exacerbation of the chronic.




Citardi MD, Martin J. “Brief Overview of Sinus and Nasal Anatomy.” American Rhinologic Society. Web. 16 Oct. 2010.

“Sinusitis – Symptoms.” University of Maryland Medical Center. Web. 16 Oct. 2010.

Meltzer, E., D. Hamilos, J. Hadley, D. Lanza, B. Marple, R. Nicklas, C. Bachert, J. Baraniuk, F. Baroody, and M. Benninger. “Rhinosinusitis: Establishing Definitions for Clinical Research and Patient Care.” Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery 131.6 (2004): S1-S62. Print.

Levine MD, Howard. “Sinusitis Diagnosis.” American Rhinologic Society. Web. 16 Oct. 2010.


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