5 Clear Signs You Have Sinus Infection Symptoms

Updated: Oct. 11, 2022

Symptoms often mimic those of a common cold—but these are some of the bigger differences

What is a sinus infection?

Before we get into sinus infection symptoms, here’s a brief anatomy lesson from Edwin F. Williams, III, MD, FACS, president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (who deals with a lot of noses): “The term sinusitis means inflammation or a sinus infection. There are cavities in our skull/face. A couple are right above the eye socket in the center of the forehead—these are frontal sinuses. Then we have some under the eyes and nose, which are maxillary sinuses. These are basically air cavities. No one really knows why we have them, but one theory is that if our entire skull was filled with bone, it might be too heavy. They also act as resonance chambers for sound,” he explains. “These cavities are supposed to drain into the nasal cavity through ducts. When they drain into the nasal cavity, cilia function as an escalator to keep sinuses clear. When they get blocked, you get a pool of mucus and that becomes infected. People with allergies can be predisposed to these blockages. As a facial plastic surgeon, one reason we see a lot of these blockages is a deviated septum, in which the sinus openings become narrow.”

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Sinus infection symptom: Your teeth ache

Is it a cavity? A loose filling? Your wisdom teeth coming in? Or—gasp!—gum disease? What it could be is one of the easiest-to-miss sinus infection symptoms. “Dental pain is probably the most overlooked sinus infection symptom,” says Eugene Chio, MD, an otolaryngologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “This is usually related to a maxillary (or cheek) sinusitis as the upper tooth roots will often extend close to the sinus.”

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Sinus infection symptom: Your face hurts

You know how it feels when you really rock it in your go-to fitness class or go for a long run? That soreness is an indication that you worked hard, burned calories, and challenged your muscles. But it could mean something pretty different if your face is aching. As Williams notes, facial pain can indicate that not only are your sinuses blocked, but they’re infected, which makes them hurt. And a sinus blockage itself can cause pain even without infection. Here are other reasons you might feel congested all the time.

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Sinus infection symptom: You feel so. Much. Pressure.

There’s really nothing worse than when you wake up in the morning and you automatically want to shut your eyes again. And not because it’s Monday or you had three too many cocktails last night, but because your head feels cloudy, heavy, and uncomfortable. Dr. Williams explains before your sinuses become infected, they are blocked. This blockage is what causes all of that pressure to build and feel intense, potentially signaling more sinus infection symptoms on the way.

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Sinus infection symptom: You can’t smell anything

If your partner keeps asking you if you’re ready for dinner, but your senses aren’t triggering hunger because you can’t smell the stir-fry, you might be coming down with a sinus infection. “Loss of sense of smell can occur with sinusitis from the inflammation around the olfactory, or smell, organ,” Dr. Chio explains. This means that you’re starting to come down with a potential sinus infection.

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Sinus infection symptom: You can’t shake your headache

All sorts of things can cause a headache: dehydration, too much movement, or being tired. However, if you’ve been struggling with a chronic headache for many days, then the building pressure in your brain can be a sign that you’re developing sinus infection symptoms, especially if you have any sort of drainage, Dr. Williams says. Most sinus infections are viral, meaning antibiotics won’t help, but you can try these 9 home remedies for sinus infection relief.

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What should you do if you think you have a sinus infection?

Before you seek medical attention, Dr. Williams suggests taking a warm shower and giving the pain 24 hours to see if clears up. However, if the problem persists or worsens, it’s important to see a doctor. Again, note that most infections are viral and do not improve with antibiotics. Next, learn these 7 signs your upper respiratory infection is actually pneumonia.