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How Long Do Antibiotics Take to Work on Sinus Infections?

December 14th, 2022 | 2 min. read

By Robert Cross, M.D.

Young woman sneezing at home with a sinus infection

Often, sinus infections are treated with antibiotics. However, your doctor will determine the best treatment based on the root cause of your sinus infection.

If antibiotics are prescribed, you may want to know how long it will be before you start to experience relief from symptoms.

Read on to find out how sinus infections are diagnosed, when your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, and how long it will take antibiotics to take effect.

How are sinus infections diagnosed? 

Symptoms of a sinus infection may include headache, facial pressure, and severe nasal congestion. If you experience any of these symptoms, visit your primary care physician for an accurate diagnosis.

Sinus symptoms can be caused by bacterial or viral infections or even allergies. Antibiotics only work on bacterial sinus infections, so your doctor may not prescribe antibiotics immediately.

Instead, your doctor may first prescribe nasal rinses, decongestants, or anti-inflammatory medications to manage symptoms.

When are antibiotics prescribed for a sinus infection?

Your doctor will consider antibiotic treatment if you do not see relief from these initial treatments. If you develop a fever, or tenderness and pain in your teeth, you may be experiencing symptoms of a bacterial sinus infection.

Not all antibiotics are effective for the treatment of bacterial sinus infections, so your doctor will look at your medical history and current symptoms to determine the best antibiotic treatment.

Person taking antibiotics at their kitchen counter

How long do antibiotics take to work on sinus infections?

Our sinuses are hard to reach, so it can take between two to three days before antibiotics work on sinus infections. 

It is critical to continue the whole course of antibiotics, even if you start to feel better. If you don’t finish the whole course, your body could begin to build resistance to those antibiotics. This makes future treatment more difficult.

Sometimes, patients experience negative side effects while taking antibiotics. If you experience rash, hives, or have difficulty breathing while taking antibiotics, call your doctor immediately. You may be experiencing an allergic reaction. In older adults, some types of antibiotics may cause inflammation in tendons.

In addition to clearing your sinuses of infection, antibiotics also work in other parts of your body, particularly the gut. This could cause diarrhea, so you may want to take a probiotic as well.

What should you do if antibiotics don't work?

Some patients suffer from recurring sinus infections. If your sinus infection does not improve within five to seven days after you finish the whole course of antibiotics, or if you experience another sinus infection within a few weeks, you may be referred to an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist for treatment.

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

If you feel you are experiencing sinus infection symptoms, make an appointment with your physician, and do not attempt to treat symptoms on your own. While you may initially be recommended OTC treatments, only your doctor can accurately diagnose your symptoms, and prescribe the right treatment for relief.  

Looking for a better primary care experience? 

Primary care physicians are the best option for treating most sinus infections. However, we know the traditional primary care system doesn't always work for you, the patient. It may take days or weeks to get an appointment. And we all know waiting for 20-30 minutes in a lobby with a handful of other potentially sick patients isn't ideal. 

If you're frustrated with your current primary care experience, it might be time to consider an alternative primary care model like concierge medicine. Concierge medicine provides same-day or next-day acute care appointments, 24/7 access to physician care, little to no waiting in lobbies or exam rooms, and more. 

Interested? Download our free Understanding Concierge Medicine ebook today.

Download Understanding Concierge Medicine e-book

Robert Cross, M.D.