Sometimes referred to as: rhinosinusitis, acute sinusitis, sinus infection

Interview between:

  • Russell Alpert, MD

  • Nora Lansen, MD

Sinusitis refers to inflammation of the nasal cavity mucous membranes.  Mucous membranes help clean and remove unwanted particles, such as pollen and dust, from our nasal passages. The moist environment of our mucous membranes is a preferred site for infectious viruses to replicate and result in sinus inflammation.

Cases Per Year (US)

There are approximately 29 million cases per year.

General Frequency

Sinusitis is a common problem occurring in 1 out of 7 people every year.


Risk factors include older age (most common age 45-64), smoking, exposure to changes in atmospheric pressure (e.g., deep sea diving), asthma and allergies, dental disease, and immunodeficiency.


Causes and Symptoms

Is sinusitis the same thing as a sinus infection? 

We often use the term sinus infection synonymously with sinusitis. However, one can also have inflammation of the sinuses without having an infection. This is more rare than an infection, and often referred to as chronic sinusitis. 

What are the symptoms of sinusitis?

Most people have experienced the classic symptoms of sinusitis at some point: nasal congestion, nasal drainage or postnasal drip, throbbing pressure around the face and head especially when bending forward, and even tooth pain. Other symptoms can include fever, earache, dizziness, fatigue, and (rarely) loss of taste and smell. 

What causes sinusitis? 

Viral infections, including the common cold and flu, are the most common cause of sinusitis. Bacterial infections that require antibiotic treatment account for less than 1% of all sinuses infections. Most often, bacterial infections are preceded by viral infections or inflammation of the nasal passage caused by environmental or seasonal allergies. This inflammation alters the normal cleaning and clearing ability of the mucous membranes and allows for bacteria to infect the sinuses.  

What is the difference between bacterial and viral sinusitis? Are there other types of sinusitis?

Viral sinusitis is caused by viruses such as the common cold or flu. Bacterial sinusitis is caused by bacteria such as Streptococcus or Staphylococcus. Generally, symptoms of viral and bacterial sinus infections are the same. 

Viral sinus infections typically spontaneously resolve on their own, usually within 10 days of the onset of symptoms. For bacterial sinus infections, symptoms last longer (>10 days). Worsening of sinusitis symptoms after an initial period of improvement also suggests a bacterial cause. Sinusitis can be classified based on the duration of symptoms:

  • Acute rhinosinusitis – Symptoms lasting for less than 4 weeks

  • Subacute rhinosinusitis – Symptoms lasting for 4-to-12 weeks

  • Chronic rhinosinusitis – Symptoms persisting longer than 12 weeks

  • Recurrent acute rhinosinusitis – Four or more episodes of acute sinusitis per year, with interim symptom resolution





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Russell Alpert, MD and Nora Lansen, MD are both members of the Galileo Clinical Team. Connect with one of our physicians about Sinusitis or any of the many other conditions we treat.

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