Sinus infections may be caused by a cold, the flu or allergies, but they can also be triggered by bacteria, including streptococcus pneumonia or staphylococcus aureus. Sometimes it can be difficult for patients to determine if they have a cold or a sinus infection because they share similar symptoms.
A doctor may diagnose a sinus infection if two out of four primary symptoms are present:
- Tenderness, pain or swelling in the area around eyes, forehead, cheeks or nose
- Thick and discolored postnasal drainage down the back of your throat
- Nasal congestion that makes it difficult to breathe through your nose
- Bad taste in your mouth or reduced sense of smell
A sinus infection may cause additional symptoms, including:
- Low-grade fever
- Sore throat
- Pain in one or both ears
- Dull ache in the upper jaw or teeth
- Bad breath
Often sinus infections will clear up on their own, but if you have symptoms that last more than seven days, it is time to see a doctor. You should see a doctor immediately if you suffer from any of the following symptoms that could be life threatening:
- Fever over 103 degrees or fever lasting more than three days
- Severe headache
- Stiff neck
- Facial rash
- Redness or swelling around eyes
- Visual disturbances, such as double vision
Failure to treat severe sinus infections can lead to extremely dangerous infections such as meningitis or cellulitis. If the infection spreads to your eye sockets, you are at risk for eye damage or permanent blindness. There is also a risk of permanently losing some or all of your ability to smell.
If you suspect you might have a sinus infection, it is better to err on the side of caution by scheduling a visit to see your doctor than to take the risk of the infection spreading.