90% Of Sinus Infections Are Viral (And Everything Else You Need To Know About Sinusitis)

Sinusitis is one of the most common medical conditions we see in urgent care.  Unfortunately, there’s lots of misinformation about this condition. Here’s what patients need to know about sinusitis.

1) 90% of sinus infections are viral.



Yes, you read that right.  Nine in ten cases of sinusitis are caused by viruses, which means antibiotics won’t help at all (because antibiotics only kill bacteria, not viruses).  While there are lots of other treatments to alleviate the symptoms of sinusitis, antibiotics are rarely indicated, and because of their side effects and ability to create antibiotic resistance, will most often do more harm than good.


2) Viral sinusitis can lead to a secondary bacterial infection if not properly treated.


While sinusitis nearly always starts off as a viral infection, if the mucus stays in the sinus passages for more than 10 - 14 days, it can become colonized with bacteria, resulting in a worsening and more serious infection that does require an oral antibiotic.  The most effective way to prevent bacterial sinus infections is to eliminate the mucus before it can become colonized with respiratory pathogens that cause worsening infections.

3) Know what over-the-counter medicines do (and don’t!) work.



Companies like Mucinex spend millions of advertising dollars touting their medicine as a sure-fire cure for nasal and chest congestion.  However, in the studies that have been done so far, there’s no evidence that medicines like Mucinex, Dayquil or Theraflu work any better in resolving congestion than a placebo.  The most effective treatments for congestion include Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) and nasal steroid sprays (like Flonase or Nasonex).

4) Know the signs of bacterial sinusitis.

Since sinusitis does sometimes progress to a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics, it’s important to know the symptoms that should prompt you to make a clinic appointment.

Reasons to consult a provider about antibiotics include


At Golden Gate Urgent Care, we’re here seven days a week to help you feel as healthy as possible!  Make an appointment online or simply walk in to any of our six Bay Area locations to get the care you need.

Sarah Thebarge MMSc, PA-C Sarah Thebarge earned her physician assistant degree at Yale School of Medicine, and then studied journalism at Columbia School of Journalism. She has been a physician assistant and a freelance journalist since 2004. In addition to caring for patients at Golden Gate Urgent Care, Sarah frequently volunteers her medical skills in the developing world. Her writing has appeared in Huffington Post, USA Today and National Geographic, and her blog was featured on MSNBC.com. She is the author of the memoir The Invisible Girls and the upcoming book WELL: Healing our Beautiful, Broken World from a Hospital in West Africa. She currently lives in the Mission District of San Francisco.

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