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How is a Sinus Infection Diagnosed?

Many people suffer from sinus infections, but few know how a sinus infection is diagnosed. One important factor to keep in mind is that most sinus infections are diagnosed through an examination by a doctor, as well as patient symptoms. It is important to communicate with your doctor and explain the symptoms you have been experiencing so that you can be diagnosed and treated appropriately.

Typical Symptoms of a Sinus Infection

Due to the fact that CT scans and MRIs can be expensive, time-consuming, and are usually not available in most doctors’ offices, an examination is often the best way to diagnose a sinus infection. Some symptoms that a doctor will be looking for include:

  • Purulent drainage from the sinuses
  • Nasal passages that are red and swollen
  • Swelling around the cheeks and eyes
  • Tenderness on the forehead or upper cheeks

Many people suffer from occasional sinus infections, but others suffer chronic infections that can be uncomfortable and difficult to manage.

Methods of Diagnosing a Sinus Infection

In some cases, secretions from the nasal passages can be examined to help your doctor determine if you have a case of allergic sinusitis or if it is infectious sinusitis. It is important to differentiate between these two forms of sinusitis because it can make a difference in the protocol your doctor orders for your particular case. For example, infectious sinusitis will typically require the use of antibiotics to fight the infection, but antibiotics will have no effect on allergic sinusitis. Many times allergic sinusitis is treated by dealing with the symptoms.


Rhinoscopy can help in determining a sinus infection and possible causes of recurring infections. Rhinoscopy allows a doctor to use a small fiber-optic tube to look at the back of the nasal passages as well as the sinus openings. Obstructions, swelling and growths can be detected through rhinoscopy. Sometimes these obstructions can be the cause of a sinus infection.

Needle Aspiration

In some cases, a doctor might need to aspirate infected material from the sinuses in order to further evaluate it and determine the exact pathogen that is causing the infection. This procedure is usually done when other courses of treatment have failed to relieve the sinus infection. A needle aspiration usually requires local or general anesthesia, but the cultures that can be performed with the aspirated material is the most accurate way to diagnose a sinus infection.


A rigid or flexible endoscope can be used by an otolaryngologist and the patient will likely need to be sedated. Some experts believe that the material obtained during an endoscopy can be just as effective in diagnosing a sinus infection as the material obtained through needle aspiration.

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