What Antibiotic for Sinus Infection? Treatment Options for Sinusitis Relief

March 6, 2024

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Sinus infections, also called sinusitis, affect over 30 million people in the US every year. This common condition causes uncomfortable symptoms like facial pain, headache, and nasal congestion due to inflammation of the sinus cavities. While mild acute sinusitis often resolves on its own, more persistent or severe cases may require medications to treat infection and provide symptom relief.

Understanding Sinus Infections

The sinuses are air-filled pockets behind the forehead, cheeks, and eyes that connect to the nasal cavity. Each sinus has an opening that allows mucus to drain, preventing fluid buildup. Sinusitis occurs when these passages become blocked or inflamed, usually due to factors like:

  • Viral, bacterial, or fungal infections
  • Allergies
  • Anatomical issues like nasal polyps
  • Environmental irritants

There are a few types of sinusitis:

  • Acute sinusitis lasts up to 4 weeks with sudden onset of symptoms
  • Subacute sinusitis persists 4-12 weeks
  • Chronic sinusitis lasts over 12 weeks with recurring or persistent symptoms
  • Recurrent acute sinusitis means 4+ acute sinus infections per year

While viruses often cause acute sinusitis, bacteria are responsible for many subacute, chronic, and recurrent cases. Common culprits include Streptococcus pneumoniaeHaemophilus influenzae, and Moraxella catarrhalis.


Sinus Infection Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of sinusitis may include:

  • Congestion and blockage
  • Facial pressure and pain
  • Headache
  • Purulent nasal drainage
  • Loss of smell
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Bad breath
  • Tooth pain

Best Antibiotics for Sinus Infections

If a bacterial sinus infection is suspected, antibiotics may be prescribed to fight infection and provide symptom relief. Some of the most common antibiotics for sinusitis treatment include:

Amoxicillin and Augmentin

  • Amoxicillin – This penicillin antibiotic works against most common bacteria. It may be used alone or combined with clavulanate (Augmentin) for broader coverage.


  • Cefdinir (Omnicef) – Covers S. pneumoniaeH. influenzae, and some resistant strains. Fewer side effects than similar antibiotics.
  • Cefuroxime (Ceftin, Zinacef) – Treats sinusitis from penicillin-resistant S. pneumoniae and methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Ceftriaxone – A strong 3rd generation cephalosporin given by injection which penetrates tissues well.


  • Azithromycin (Zithromax) – Has activity against common bacterial causes of sinusitis. More convenient dosing than similar antibiotics.
  • Clarithromycin (Biaxin) – Effective for sinusitis not responding to penicillins or cephalosporins. Also treats atypical bacteria.

Respiratory Fluoroquinolones

  • Levofloxacin (Levaquin)
  • Moxifloxacin (Avelox)

These broad-spectrum antibiotics treat bacterial sinusitis that doesn’t respond to first-line agents. Streptococcus pneumoniae resistance is a concern.


  • Prednisone – Prescription corticosteroid used short-term for inflammation. Should not be taken long-term.

In recurrent or chronic sinusitis cases, cultures may identify the bacteria causing infection to guide targeted antibiotic therapy.


Home Remedies & OTC Medications

In mild or acute sinusitis, home treatments can sometimes clear up infection without antibiotics. These may also provide relief alongside prescription meds.

  • Nasal saline rinses – Saltwater flushes help thin mucus so sinuses can drain. Use sinus rinse bottles or Neti pots.
  • Nasal sprays – Corticosteroid nasal sprays like Flonase reduce swelling. Decongestants like Afrin relieve congestion short-term.
  • Analgesics – OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve) can alleviate headache, facial pain and pressure. Don’t take ibuprofen/naproxen long-term.
  • Oral decongestants – Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) tablets relieve congestion but may cause insomnia or anxiety.
  • Antihistamines – If allergies contribute to symptoms, antihistamines like loratadine (Claritin) or cetirizine (Zyrtec) can help. Avoid sedating antihistamines that cause drowsiness.
  • Warm compresses – Hot packs applied over the sinus area provide relief from facial pain and pressure.
  • Steam inhalation – Inhaling steam loosens thick nasal mucus discharge associated with infection. Careful not to scald skin.
  • Hydration – Drinking extra fluids keeps mucus thin.
  • Rest – Letting the body heal itself helps fight infection.
  • Saline nasal sprays – Help relieve congestion and lubricate nasal passages.
  • Nasal strips – Help open nasal passages to improve airflow.
  • Eucalyptus oil – When inhaled, natural decongestant properties may ease sinus pressure.
  • Peppermint – Inhaling peppermint steam helps clear nasal congestion.
  • Apple cider vinegar – Contains antimicrobial components that may combat infection. Mix with water and drink.
  • Ginger – Fresh ginger root made into tea can help relieve sinus inflammation. Has antimicrobial effects.
  • Garlic – Contains allicin, a compound with antibacterial properties that may fight infection. Eat raw cloves or take supplements.
  • Spicy foods – Spicy dishes made with jalapeno, horseradish, wasabi, etc. help open sinuses.
  • Yoga poses – Gentle poses that elevate the head like Downward Facing Dog encourage drainage.
  • Acupuncture – This traditional therapy may provide sinus pressure relief and headaches relief.

See a doctor right away if symptoms worsen or last longer than 10-14 days despite treatment. Recurring acute sinus infections or chronic sinusitis requires medical diagnosis and care.


When to See an ENT Doctor

Consult an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, known as an otolaryngologist, if you experience:

  • Symptoms lasting over 2 weeks with antibiotics
  • More than 3-4 acute sinus infections per year
  • Chronic sinusitis lasting 12 weeks or longer
  • Recalcitrant sinusitis failing medical therapy
  • Signs of infection spreading beyond sinuses
  • Severe headaches, high fever, facial swelling
  • Vision changes, eye pain, bulging eyes
  • Altered mental status, seizures

An ENT can determine if structural problems or fungal infections cause recalcitrant symptoms. They may order CT scans or nasal endoscopy to visualize the sinus anatomy and see drainage passage obstructions. This helps guide treatment decisions and surgery considerations.

Sinus Surgery Options

Surgery opens blocked sinus pathways to restore drainage and ventilation. This is only done after failed medical management. Procedures may include:

  • FESS (Functional endoscopic sinus surgery) – Most common surgery done with narrow endoscope and microscopic tools through nostrils. Removes obstructions and pus, enlarges passages. Often an outpatient procedure.
  • Balloon sinuplasty – Nonsurgical option using a tiny balloon catheter to open blocked sinus pathways by gently remodeling bone. Quick recovery.
  • Endoscopic septoplasty – Straightens and repositions deviated septum to improve sinus/nasal airflow. Often combined with minimally invasive sinus procedures.
  • Tissue or polyp removal – Takes out nasal/sinus tissues blocking drainage. Done quickly in clinic setting or operating room.
  • Rhinoplasty – Reshapes external nose and internal nasal structures. Improves airflow issues aggravating chronic sinusitis.

Combining medical therapy and surgery can successfully manage difficult sinus disease restoring quality of life.

FAQs About Treating Sinus Infections

What is the fastest way to get rid of a sinus infection?

Most mild acute sinus infections resolve on their own within 1-2 weeks with symptomatic relief treatments. Using nasal saline rinses helps flush out mucus and speeds healing. Oral or nasal decongestants shrink swollen membranes so passages drain faster. Over-the-counter pain relievers ease painful symptoms. See a doctor if symptoms last beyond 10-14 days despite home treatment or worsen significantly. Recurring infections may require prescription antibiotic therapy combined with intranasal steroids.

How long do I need to take antibiotics for a sinus infection?

Most patients take antibiotics for acute bacterial sinusitis for 5-10 days. A longer 10-14 day course is often prescribed for chronic sinusitis or infections from more resistant bacteria. Always finish antibiotics as directed, even when feeling better, to prevent recurrence. Check with your prescribing physician before stopping antibiotics early.

What home remedy works best for sinus pressure?

Saline nasal rinses and sprays help flush thick mucus secretions from inflamed sinus cavities relieving facial pressure. Oral decongestants like pseudoephedrine tablets reduce swollen nasal membranes and open passages for drainage and airflow. Inhaling warm steam loosens mucus discharge and soothes membranes. Applying warm, moist heat packs can ease sinus pressure and pain. Sleeping propped up on extra pillows lets gravity help mucus drain preventing fluid backup.

What should I avoid with sinusitis?

Avoid irritants exacerbating symptoms like tobacco smoke, air pollution, dust, chemicals with strong odors, chlorinated pools. Don’t overuse nasal decongestant sprays beyond 3 days which can cause rebound congestion. Skip over-the-counter antihistamine/decongestant combo medicines which dry out nasal passages. Don’t fly until acute infection resolves due to painful sinus pressure changes. Delay dental procedures until antibiotics treat infection to prevent spreading bacteria.

How do you tell a sinus infection from a cold?

While colds and sinusitis share congestion, runny nose and headache symptoms, only bacterial or fungal sinus infections cause pus drainage, foul odor, pain and pressure in sinus areas and around eyes, fever, fatigue and symptoms over 10 days. Colds usually improve in under a week. Allergies don’t cause facial pain/pressure. The flu has high fever, body aches. Getting a medical diagnosis determines if antibiotics are appropriate.

Key Points to Remember

  • Acute viral sinusitis often resolves without antibiotics using symptomatic relief treatments
  • Bacterial sinus infections may require antibiotic therapy lasting 5-14+ days
  • Chronic or recurrent acute sinusitis needs medical diagnosis and care
  • Nasal saline rinses, nasal steroids, decongestants, pain relievers provide symptom relief
  • See an ENT if symptoms persist despite treatment or recur frequently
  • Sinus surgery is last resort for clearing obstructed sinus drainage pathways

Following doctor’s instructions for medication treatments combined with home remedies provides the fastest relief from frustrating sinus infection symptoms. Always discuss lingering or worsening sinus problems with your physician to rule out complications and determine if specialty referral is indicated. Catching infections early optimizes outcomes preventing chronic issues down the road.


  • Overview of acute and chronic sinusitis. European Position Paper on Rhinosinusitis and Nasal Polyps. Rhinology Journal. 2022 Feb
  • Antimicrobial treatment for chronic rhinosinusitis. Fokkens WJ, Lund VJ, Hopkins C, et al. European Position Paper on Rhinosinusitis and Nasal Polyps. Rhinology Journal. 2022 Feb
  • Role of nasal endoscopy, CT, and surgery in chronic rhinosinusitis management. Hwang P, Kingdom TT. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America. 2019 Aug
  • International Consensus Statement on Allergy and Rhinology: Rhinosinusitis. Wise SK, Lin SY, Toskala E, et al. International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology. 2018 Feb
  • Diagnosis and treatment of acute and subacute sinusitis. Chow AW, Benninger MS, Brook I, et al. Infectious Diseases Society of America guidelines. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2012 Mar
  • Antibiotics vs. placebo in acute maxillary sinusitis. Falagas ME, Gianakos I. International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents. 2007 Feb
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