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How do I know if I have acute sinusitis?

Diagnosis and Treatment

There are a few ways health-care professionals will diagnose sinusitis. If you've been suffering with symptoms for less than four weeks but aren't getting better, your doctor may evaluate you for thick nasal discharge that is either yellow or green, and for facial swelling, redness or tender areas and/or tooth and jaw aches that may indicate inflamed sinuses. You may also undergo X-rays or a computerized tomography scan (CT scan), a mucus culture to determine if there is bacteria causing your sinus inflammation and which bacteria is the culprit, as well as a nasal endoscopy to determine if there are nasal polyps, all to help with the diagnosis.

Sinusitis sufferers make up about 20 percent of the patient visits to allergists and immunologists every year, and no less than 30 million prescriptions for antibiotics are written to help treat the condition [source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology].

Antibiotics, while they may help, are not always the first course of treatment for acute sinusitis.

Just like treating a cold, the best way to fight acute sinusitis includes rest and sleep, staying hydrated by drinking fluids, and managing symptoms with over-the-counter remedies such as acetaminophen for pain relief and fever reduction. When it comes to over-the-counter medicines you may want to skip any cold medicines that will add to the dryness of the mucus membranes, such as antihistamines or decongestants -- moist sinuses are healthier than dry sinuses. It's best to take the advice of your health-care provider when choosing what medicines are right for you and your symptoms.

Additionally, some patients find relief through alternative remedies. Sipping hot liquids such as teas and clear broths, and applying hot towels to the face -- steamy showers or baths work well, too -- can help to reduce inflammation and loosen up the mucus blocking your nasal passages. Saline irrigation, made with table salt and warm water in a neti pot or store-bought saline nasal spray, may help to clear mucus from the nasal passages, as well. Other alternative remedies such as vitamin C, yogurt (with active probiotics), zinc lozenges and Echinacea may be helpful, but the word is still out on whether or not they will reduce symptoms or the amount of time you're sick. In some cases, sinusitis may go away without any treatment.