You’re miserable. Your nose is dripping like a leaky faucet. When you bend down, your head feels so heavy, you wonder if you have the strength to lift it up again. Everything above your neck hurts – your eyes, your ears, your throat. Even your teeth hurt.

All signs point to a sinus infection – not just a stuffy nose. But your doctor doesn’t prescribe antibiotics, even after you explain how you’ve been suffering for five torturous days! What gives?

There’s a very good reason for this, according to family medicine doctor Benjamin Dummer, who was our guest expert on a recent For Health’s Sake podcast episode about sinus infections.

It comes down to the difference between viral and bacterial sinus infections. While antibiotics are effective against bacterial sinus infections, they can be harmful when used for viral infections. But telling the difference between viral and bacterial sinus infections is no easy task. Timing is the biggest clue.

“Generally viral infections are self-limited and last seven to 10 days, while bacterial infections generally have a longer time course,” said Dr. Dummer.

If your symptoms go away and come back, that’s another sign that it may be bacterial.

Even if antibiotics aren’t right for your type of sinus infection, there are ways to relieve your symptoms. Find out more about them on the podcast, which covers:

  • Where our sinuses are located and why we have sinuses
  • What causes sinus infections
  • Differences between viral and bacterial sinus infections
  • Ways to relieve sinus symptoms using over-the-counter products
  • When you may be referred to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) for advanced care

Don’t delay getting the care you need: Talk with a doctor

If you think you have a sinus infection, even if it’s only been a couple days, it’s still a good idea to talk to your doctor.

“In the era of [COVID-19], there are many symptoms of COVID that can align with sinus infection,” said Dr. Dummer. “So, if you think you’re having symptoms of a sinus infection, I would recommend getting COVID tested or talking to your provider about COVID testing.”