Sinus infection treatment: Where do I go for care?

Do you need an antibiotic, or are there other ways to get rid of a sinus infection?

Sinus symptoms can be easy to recognize when you’re used to experiencing them around the same time every year. In most places, that’s cold and flu season, which occurs in late fall and into winter. But here in Kentucky? Due to high pollen counts, we can be susceptible to sinus infections all year.

The trademark symptom of sinus infections is pressure — under and between your eyes and just over your eyebrows. There’s nothing like that tight squeezing feeling in your head! The dreaded sinus pressure may be accompanied by a headache, nasal mucus (snot), cough, sore throat, congestion or other symptoms.

Sinus symptoms are not much fun. So how do you know whether an at-home treatment will do the trick, whether you need to be examined by a health care provider, or if you need an antibiotic for your sinus infection? Here’s what you need to know about what to do and where to go for sinus infection treatment.

How to get rid of a sinus infection

According to Shawn C. McCarty, M.D., physician with Norton Immediate Care, the first line of treatments for a sinus infection is over-the-counter medications.

“In most cases, over-the-counter medications will take care of sinus issues,” Dr. McCarty said. “The problem is, people often use the wrong medicines and then think they need an antibiotic because their symptoms don’t get better.”


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Dr. McCarty recommends the following over-the-counter medications to treat a sinus infection:

  • Use a decongestant, such as Sudafed, and a mucolytic, like Mucinex.
  • If you have allergies, you may want to use an over-the-counter nasal steroid spray and possibly an antihistamine.
  • It may also be helpful to clear nasal passages using nasal saline or a neti pot.

Dr. McCarty warns against using nasal sprays with oxymetazoline, because overuse can cause severe rebound congestion — or congestion that returns after use of the nasal spray has stopped — and this can be difficult to overcome.

Related Content: Where do I go for seasonal allergy relief?

Antibiotics for sinus infection

According to Dr. McCarty, antibiotics are prescribed to treat sinus infections only when a health care provider suspects a bacterial sinus infection.

“A physician or nurse practitioner will take a history of your symptoms, take your medical history and examine you to determine if your symptoms are more consistent with a viral or bacterial infection,” Dr. McCarty said. “There is no lab test, X-ray or scan that can distinguish the cause of a sinus infection better than the exam a medical provider performs. If a bacterial infection is suspected, your provider will prescribe a minimum 14-day course of antibiotics. Because the sinuses are difficult to penetrate with antibiotics, they must be used for a longer period of time.”


When it comes to sinus symptoms, there’s a risk for one type of infection leading to another when not treated properly.

“A viral upper respiratory infection can lead to a bacterial sinus infection,” Dr. McCarty said. “Sinus infections and ear infections often occur together because both are the result of congestion in the sinuses and other ‘spaces’ in the head.”

According to Dr. McCarty, untreated sinus infections can cause a long list of serious and even life-threatening conditions such as sinus polyps or meningitis.

“Particularly in people with diabetes, a compromised immune system and the elderly, sinus infections require fast treatment.”

Sinus infections can be treated by your primary care provider, after hours or on the weekends at an urgent care center or retail clinic such as an Norton Immediate Care Center or Norton Prompt Care at Walgreens location, or 24/7 through a virtual visit with Norton eCare.

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