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Acute Sinusitis in Teens: Care Instructions

Sinuses in face around eyes and nose, showing clear sinuses on one side of face and inflamed sinuses with mucus buildup in a sinus on other side.


Acute sinusitis is an inflammation of the mucous membranes inside the nose and sinuses. Sinuses are the hollow spaces in your skull around the eyes and nose. Acute sinusitis often follows a cold. Acute sinusitis causes thick, discoloured mucus that drains from the nose or down the back of the throat. It also can cause pain and pressure in your head and face along with a stuffy or blocked nose.

In most cases, sinusitis gets better on its own in 1 to 2 weeks. But some mild symptoms may last for several weeks. Sometimes antibiotics are needed if there is a bacterial infection.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Use saline (saltwater) nasal washes. This can help keep your nasal passages open and wash out mucus and allergens.
    • You can buy saline nose washes at a grocery store or drugstore. Follow the instructions on the package.
    • You can make your own at home. Add 1 teaspoon (5 millilitres) of non-iodized salt and 1 teaspoon (5 millilitres) of baking soda to 2 cups (500 millilitres) of distilled or boiled and cooled water. Fill a squeeze bottle or a nasal cleansing pot (such as a neti pot) with the nasal wash. Then put the tip into your nostril, and lean over the sink. With your mouth open, gently squirt the liquid. Repeat on the other side.
  • Try a decongestant nasal spray like oxymetazoline (Claritin). Do not use it for more than 3 days in a row. Using it for more than 3 days can make your congestion worse.
  • If needed, take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Be careful when taking over-the-counter cold or influenza (flu) medicines and Tylenol at the same time. Many of these medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Read the labels to make sure that you are not taking more than the recommended dose. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Try a steroid nasal spray. It may help with your symptoms.
  • Breathe warm, moist air. You can use a steamy shower, a hot bath, or a sink filled with hot water. Avoid cold, dry air. Using a humidifier in your home may help. Follow the directions for cleaning the machine.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse swelling, redness, or pain in your face or around one or both of your eyes.
  • You have double vision or a change in your vision.
  • You have a high fever.
  • You have a severe headache and a stiff neck.
  • You have mental changes, such as feeling confused or much less alert.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You are not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.