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Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 21:24 EDT

Sinus Infections: Unavoidable, But Manageable

February 1, 2011

Sinus infections may be prevented, but in some cases they just can’t be avoided. The good news is that with over-the-counter anti-histamines and time, most go away, said a Baylor College of Medicine physician.

“In subtropical climates like Houston, there are a lot of pollutants and allergens looming around,” said Dr. Steve Rosenbaum, assistant professor of medicine and section chief of general internal medicine at Baylor Clinic. “Sinus infections are caused by some of these things that we pick up, not by something specific to our body.”

Classic symptoms

On a daily basis, we can become exposed to and pick up these infections, Rosenbaum said.

“Think of the classic symptoms ““ cough, runny nose, itchy eyes,” said Rosenbaum. “We are exposed to these microbes daily, even if we do not have direct contact with people they can still spread.”

As unpleasant as it sounds, Rosenbaum said these droplets of drainage and fluid can suspend in the air or on a surface. “A simple touch of a door handle or grocery cart can result in transmission of these infections.”

Wash your hands, other tips

Rosenbaum said the best tip is to remember to wash your hands or use antibacterial gel immediately after these exposures. “Use the wipes provided in the grocery store, wash your hands after touching a public door handle and if exiting a bathroom, use a paper towel to open the door.”

This will help protect, but some infections cannot be avoided, he said.

Treatment

Most sinus infections are not serious and can be easily managed, although they may creep around for five to seven days, Rosenbaum said.

“Initially we treat the symptoms,” said Rosenbaum. “We recommend over-the-counter antihistamines, such as Claritin® or Zyrtec®.”

Extra drainage may cause a painful sore throat in the middle of the night, Rosenbaum said. “Mom’s good-old recipe of gargling with warm salt water can help relieve this pain, along with throat lozenges.”

With time, your body will eventually rid itself of the infection, he said.

If the infection lingers around, it may be necessary to take an antibiotic.

When should you see a doctor?

If your symptoms do not go away after about five to seven days, you should go see a doctor, Rosenbaum said. “The infection could go from viral, to a secondary bacterial infection and you might need more aggressive attention.”

Rosenbaum said that intervention could include a CT scan and in rare cases drainage procedure from an ear, nose and throat specialist.

“Good antibiotic treatments should be enough to clear the infection,” said Rosenbaum.

Examples of serious symptoms include not being able to breathe and severe sinus headaches.

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