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How do I Know When to See a Doctor for a Sinus Infection?

You have been battling sinus discomfort for the last several days. And while it isn’t unusual for you at this time of year, this time it seems that the symptoms are lingering for longer and don’t really seem to be getting any better. You don’t want to go to the doctor, but with each passing day, you are starting to wonder, when is it really time to see a doctor for a sinus infection?

For many people, sinus congestion, discomfort, and the unwanted inevitable sinus headaches are simply a regular part of the changing season. Indeed, many people who suffer from spring allergies come to expect their annual sinus flare-up around this time of year, and in many cases, have everything at the ready to tackle it head on and reduce the severity and longevity of the issue. But if you are not prone to sinus issues, or if you are simply feeling like this year they are hitting you harder than usual, you may be thinking to yourself that there is something else at play; something a little more severe than simply lingering allergies, and potentially a severe enough problem that warrants a trip to the doctor’s office.

Viral Sinus Infection

While sinus issues are often caused by allergies – especially heading into spring with the flare up of pollen allergies – this doesn’t mean that this same cause can’t develop into something more, or in some cases, that the cause may be different. Not all sinus infections are composed the same: some are from viral sources, and some are from bacterial sources. If it is a viral source, the immune system will likely fight the virus and eliminate it. This is the case with most allergy related sinus issues, whereby the immune system reacts to the allergen, and then ramps up activity to remove the invader, giving you the common allergy symptoms – such as sinus issues – as a result. The impact of this type of sinus issue is simply the discomfort associated with allergies, as well as likely increased fatigue and low energy due to the immune system working in overtime and becoming depleted.

Bacterial Sinus Infection

When the sinus issues are bacterially driven however this can lead to an infection. If this occurs, this is when antibiotics are in order, as there are negative implications of letting sinus infections progress and not getting proper treatment. For example, the infection can move to the bones, altering the bone structure of the nose and causing future issues with smell and one’s ability to breathe. The infection can move to the brain, leading to issues such as meningitis, and of course, is often at the root of issues related to the lungs and chest such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or exacerbated asthma symptoms. Getting a dose of antibiotics will kill the bacteria and stop it from spreading, eliminating the risk of complications.

What to Look For

To avoid any long-term problems like infections or the spread of the bacteria, or in the event that you think you need antibiotics, it is important to become aware of the severity of your sinus symptoms and assess whether it may potentially warrant a visit to the doctor. Here are some of the things to look for that may indicate a more serious issue than simply seasonal sinusitis:

• The issue has been ongoing for 7-10 days with minimal relief during that time.
• It is accompanied by other symptoms, such as aches throughout the body.
• You have difficulty breathing or a chesty cough accompanied by phlegm.
• You experience discomfort or problems with your eyes, including redness, swelling, blurriness, or reduced vision.
• Stiff neck, fever or the onset of headaches different than a typical sinus headache.

While there are lots of other potential indicators of a sinus infection, many of which are happening inside your body that you won’t be able to see, these are some of the more common outward symptoms that you should be aware of. These are also the symptoms that act as a good indicator of the need to visit a doctor to have your sinus issues assessed.

Now What?

With an understanding of the different types of sinus infections, along with a look at the symptoms indicative of a more severe sinus issue, it is now important for you to assess your own symptoms and decide on whether you need to see a doctor. If you are experiencing the symptoms above and go to a doctor, he/she will likely take a cell swab and do a bacterial test before determining if you need a dose of antibiotics, or what the proper course of treatment may be.

Given the implications of letting sinus infections progress, proper education and understanding of your sinus infection, as well as an honest assessment of your symptoms is a key component in determining whether you need to see a doctor. This careful evaluation, along with proper treatment is key in helping you reduce your sinus issues to ensure you maintain long-term health and wellbeing.