What Is Chronic Sinusitis?

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Chronic sinusitis (sinus infection) is sinus inflammation lasting three months or longer. Your sinuses are hollow spaces in your cheekbones, around your eyes, and behind your nose. These areas are moist with mucus that help filter, warm, and moisten the air you breathe. Inflammation and infection can occur if something prevents the mucus from draining properly.

This article will help you identify the symptoms of chronic sinusitis and learn about its causes, diagnostic procedures, and treatment options.

Image of woman sitting at an office desk blowing her nose

PeopleImages / Getty Images

Chronic Sinusitis Symptoms

The primary indicator of chronic sinusitis is the duration of symptoms. If you experience sinusitis symptoms for three months or more, it’s considered chronic. General symptoms of sinusitis include the following:

You may only have a few of these symptoms. Loss of smell can also be a symptom of COVID-19. Even if you do not think you have been exposed, take a COVID-19 test to ensure you are negative.


The possible causes of chronic sinusitis are the same as acute sinusitis (which lasts four weeks or less) or subacute sinusitis (which lasts one to three months). They include:

  • Colds and allergies cause mucus buildup, which leads to blocked sinuses that can become inflamed or infected.
  • Nasal polyps are noncancerous tissue growths inside the nasal passages. Over time, they can block nasal passages, leading to mucus buildup and infection.
  • A deviated septum occurs when the cartilage between the nostrils is crooked. This can impact the function of the nasal passages and lead to chronic sinusitis.

Certain lifestyle behaviors, environmental factors, and health conditions can increase your risk of developing chronic sinusitis:

  • Smoking
  • Chronic allergies or hay fever
  • Changes in altitude (air travel or scuba diving)
  • Weakened immune system
  • Children attending daycare
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Poorly functioning cilia (tiny hairs that move mucus out of the nose and lungs)


Typically, a physical examination is enough for a provider to diagnose you with acute sinusitis. They will look inside your nose for polyps, shine a light against your sinuses to look for inflammation, or tap over a sinus cavity to check for infection.

If you suspect you have chronic sinusitis, a healthcare provider may recommend further testing to make a diagnosis. These tests include:

Other tests for chronic or repeated sinusitis include:

  • Allergy testing
  • Immune function tests, including a blood test for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Ciliary function test
  • Nasal culture
  • Cystic fibrosis sweat test
  • Nasal culture
  • Nasal cell analysis (cytology)

How Do You Treat Chronic Sinusitis?

Depending on the severity of your chronic sinusitis, a healthcare provider will prescribe medication or recommend surgery. Chronic sinusitis will require medication and, in some cases, surgery. Medicines for chronic sinus infection may include:


Chronic sinusitis usually resolves with self-care or medical treatment. If you experience repeated episodes or symptoms are not get better within three to four weeks, you should be examined for other conditions, such as nasal polyps or allergies.

The following are rare complications of chronic sinusitis:

  • Skin infection around the eye
  • Meningitis (inflammation of the tissue that protects the brain and spinal cord)
  • Bone infection
  • Abscess

Call your healthcare provider immediately if your symptoms don’t improve after treatment, you have changes in your vision or a headache that is not relieved by over-the-counter medication.


Chronic sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinus passages that lasts three months or longer. Signs of chronic sinusitis include stuffy nose, headache or pain behind the eyes, cough, toothaches, loss of smell, and fever. Most cases of chronic sinusitis can be treated at home with over-the-counter medications. If symptoms don't resolve after treatment, or you experience vision changes or a headache not relieved by painkillers, call your healthcare provider immediately.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Sinusitis.

  2. MedlinePlus. Chronic sinusitis.

  3. MedlinePlus. Sinusitis.

  4. MedlinePlus. COVID-19 Symptoms.

  5. American Lung Association. Learn about primary ciliary dyskinesia.

  6. MedlinePlus. Nasal endoscopy.

  7. MedlinePlus. CT scan.

  8. Sedaghat AR. Chronic rhinosinusitisAm Fam Physician. 2017;96(8):500-506.

By Carisa Brewster
Carisa D. Brewster is a freelance journalist with over 20 years of experience writing for newspapers, magazines, and digital publications. She specializes in science and healthcare content.