A sinus infection, or sinusitis, can be a miserable experience. Pain and pressure in the face, congestion, sore throat, headache, snoring, dry mouth, fever and fatigue are all common symptoms. If sinusitis is accompanied by certain symptoms and persists for more than 12 weeks, it’s considered chronic. If you’re managing chronic sinusitis and using sinus medication over long periods of time, you should learn about some of the potential side effects and risks.

Manage Sinusitis with Sinus Medication

Some over-the-counter (OTC) medications used to treat sinusitis include:

  • Pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen
  • Decongestants
  • Intranasal steroids
  • Antibiotics (to treat infection)
  • Antihistamines (for sinusitis from allergies)

Let’s look at the possible side-effects and long-term effects of each of these medications. doctor holding sinus medication

Pain relievers

Because sinusitis is often accompanied by uncomfortable symptoms like headache, fever, sore throat, and even body aches, pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are common OTC medicines used by people with sinusitis.

Some common side effects of ibuprofen include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Heartburn
  • Gas
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

Some rare side effects of acetaminophen include:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain

Both ibuprofen and acetaminophen are generally safe for mild to moderate pain when taken occasionally. But regular, long-term use can lead to problems.

Long-term use of ibuprofen can lead to complications like stomach bleeding, kidney or liver damage, impaired hearing, and even an increase in the risk for heart attack.

Heavy use of acetaminophen has been associated with liver disease and other rare issues.

If you’re using ibuprofen or acetaminophen for long-term pain relief, you should talk to your doctor.


Congestion, including the feeling of pressure or pain in the face or behind the eyes, is commonly experienced by people with sinusitis.

Side effects of decongestants may include:

  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • High blood pressure
  • Palpitations/arrythmias
  • Paradoxical congestion
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability

Decongestants can come in various forms including pills, syrups, capsules, or nasal sprays or drops. Always be careful when using OTC medicines because some are commonly combined, and a medicine labeled as a decongestant may also include pain relieving medications or antihistamines. It’s important to check labels to make sure you don’t mix medications and accidentally overdose.

While decongestants are safe for most people for 2-3 days, they’re not always good for regular, long-term use and can cause dependence and addiction.

Some people who take decongestants can suffer from overuse or a rebound congestion phenomenon. In decongestant sprays especially, the chemicals can shrink congested blood vessels but, if overused, the blood vessels can stop responding, causing your symptoms to worsen.

Decongestants also shouldn’t be mixed with many other medicines, supplements, or alcohol, and can be risky with some health conditions, so prolonged use should be supervised by a doctor.

Oral Corticosteroids

Some side effects of corticosteroids can include:

  • Nausea and indigestion
  • Dizziness
  • Increased appetite and weight gain
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Weakness
  • High blood pressure
  • Fluid retention
  • Mood swings

People may use corticosteroids for sinusitis because they can reduce inflammation and swelling in the sinuses, making drainage easier and relieving decongestion and pressure.

Steroids are effective antiinflammatory drugs, but prolonged use can lead to the suppression of normal steroid levels in the body. They can cause the thinning of bones, muscle weakness, glaucoma, cataracts, and ulcers with prolonged use.

Intranasal steroids however like Flonase and Nasacort are safe for long-term use and rarely have the same side effects of oral steroids and often in patient with chronic sinusitis may need to be use long-term at low doses.


For many cases of sinusitis, antibiotics are not needed, because viruses or allergens/irritants cause most sinus infections, and antibiotics won’t help with these things. If the cause of the sinus infection is bacterial, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

Some common side effects of antibiotics can include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Rash or hives
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Yeast infections
  • Diarrhea

Doctors try to be very careful in prescribing antibiotics because overuse or long-term use can result in the reduction of good gut bacteria and development of antibiotic resistance, which can make treating more serious illnesses ineffective.  Patients should avoid more than 3 rounds of antibiotics per year to maintain proper health.

Antihistamines woman at home using nasal spray

When allergies are what kicks off your chronic sinusitis, antihistamines might be used to relieve symptoms. Antihistamines block histamines, which is a chemical that causes swelling and irritation in the nasal tissues.

Antihistamines are generally safe, but have some very rare side effects, including:

* Drowsiness

* Dizziness, especially in older adults

* Dry mouth, dry eyes

* Low blood pressure

Furthermore it’s always important to be careful when using antihistamines because of possible drug interactions.

Possible Complications of Chronic Sinusitis

It isn’t just prolonged use of medications that can affect you. Simply having chronic sinusitis over long periods of time can sometimes lead to lasting issues. If it’s left untreated, long-term chronic sinusitis can lead to some serious issues and complications, including:

  • Breathing problems
  • Damage to the olfactory nerve and permanent loss of smell
  • Meningitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes)
  • Spread of infection to the skin or bones or eyes
  • Asthma
  • Snoring and sleep apnea
  • Chronic cough or lung problems
  • Chronic sore throat

Surgical Treatment Options for Chronic Sinusitis

For many people, procedures are the most effective treatment for chronic sinusitis so they can avoid the side-effects associated with chronic medication use. The benefits are many. When performed by a trusted sinus expert like Dr. Alen Cohen, these procedures are simple and can be done in as little as 20 minutes in the office with long-term and permanent results w/ minimal discomfort or downtime.  Patients are amazed that they can get their severe symptoms under control in just a quick in office procedure or a small outpatient surgery.

Contact us to learn more about Dr. Alen N. Cohen, M.D. F.A.C.S., recognized as one of the Best Sinus Surgeons in Los Angeles, and our minimally-invasive procedures available for sinusitis relief.