Sinus Infection

Close-up of a woman blowing nose with a tissue.

Do I Need Antibiotics for a Sinus Infection?

The sinuses are air filled spaces around the nose and eyes. Sinus infection (sinusitis) occurs when fluid builds up in the sinuses. Sinusitis most often occurs after a cold but most colds do not lead to bacterial sinusitis. The symptoms of sinusitis are more severe and last longer than a cold.

Why You Probably Don’t Need Antibiotics for a Sinus Infection

While both bacteria and viruses can cause sinusitis, viruses are up to 200 times more common. Therefore, antibiotics are unlikely to work for most sinus infections.

NOTE: If symptoms are accompanied by a sore throat and/or cough, see Colds and/or Influenza.

Symptoms of Sinus Infection

  • Facial pain or pressure, headache, toothache, feeling tired, cough, fever.
  • Blocked nose with yellow or green nasal discharge that lasts for more than 10 days is a sign that you may need antibiotics.

Management of Sinus Infection

  • Consider using acetaminophen (like Tylenol) or ibuprofen (like Advil) for pain and fever. Ibuprofen should not be given to children under 6 months of age without first speaking to your health care provider. Please follow dosing instructions on the box or speak to a doctor or pharmacist for more information.
  • For children, use saltwater drops or spray to help relieve nasal discharge; for adults, saltwater washes are more effective.
  • Decongestants may relieve stuffiness but will not shorten the length of the illness.
    NOTE: Do not give these products to infants or children under the age of six years.
    NOTE: Decongestants might also contain fever reducing medication. Read labels carefully and check with your pharmacist or doctor to avoid overdosing.

In British Columbia, you can call HealthLink BC (at 8-1-1) or visit if you need advice or are unsure of the best course of action.

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