Swollen sinuses can occur for many reasons, including a viral infection, such as a cold. However, it is unclear whether SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can also have this effect. Telling the difference between a sinus infection vs COVID-19 can be challenging because their symptoms are similar.

Because COVID-19 is a respiratory infection, it may affect the nose and sinus cavities in a similar way to other respiratory viruses. This may result in a blocked or runny nose, headaches, or pain.

However, many other viruses can also cause these symptoms, as can bacterial infections, fungal infections, allergies, and chronic sinusitis. The only way to confirm or rule out the presence of COVID-19 is to take a test.

Read on to learn more about the link between swollen sinuses and COVID-19.

Coronavirus data

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on COVID-19.

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Some people report having swollen sinuses during COVID-19. However, it is unclear from existing research whether the virus itself causes this.

Respiratory viruses are the most common cause of sinusitis, so it is possible that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could have this effect.

Respiratory viruses are germs that spread when people come into contact with tiny droplets from coughs and sneezes. If a virus enters the airways, it could potentially inflame the sinuses. This can prevent mucus from draining, leading to blockage of the sinuses and nose.

The symptoms of sinusitis include:

Some people may also feel pressure or pain in the ears or teeth.

However, many other viruses can cause similar symptoms, so it is impossible to know if COVID-19 is the cause based on symptoms alone.

COVID-19 can cause similar symptoms to a sinus infection. Other potential COVID-19 symptoms include:

A person does not need to have all of these symptoms to have COVID-19. Some may only have swollen sinuses. Usually, COVID-19 gets better on its own.

Vs. bacterial sinus infection

In comparison to viral sinusitis, bacterial sinusitis is more likely to cause:

Bacterial infections can also develop after a viral infection, which may cause symptoms to get better but then come back.

Vs. fungal sinus infection

Fungal sinusitis is less common. It can be noninvasive or invasive.

Noninvasive types do not always cause symptoms. When they do, they may include:

  • crusts inside the nose
  • a bad odor
  • the formation of a fungal ball inside a sinus

Invasive types are more common in people with compromised immune systems, such as those with diabetes or AIDS. At first, the symptoms can be similar to viral sinusitis. Later, they may suddenly become severe, causing:

  • facial swelling
  • headaches
  • numbness
  • bulging eyes
  • changes in vision or thinking

Doctors have reported some cases of invasive fungal sinus infections developing in people with compromised immune systems after COVID-19.

The only way to tell if a person has COVID-19 is for them to take a COVID-19 test.

However, it is important to note that COVID-19 tests cannot tell a person if their sinus infection is viral, bacterial, or fungal. Someone who tests positive for COVID-19 could also have another type of sinusitis.

Alternatively, the sinusitis may be due to another cause entirely, such as allergies, pollutants, or a chronic condition.

Positive result

If the test is positive, the symptoms may be due to COVID-19. Most people recover from COVID-19 without needing medical treatment, so the sinus swelling may go away on its own.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend:

  • staying home for at least 5 days to prevent passing on COVID-19
  • avoiding contact with others in the household, where possible
  • letting close contacts know about the result
  • wearing a well-fitting mask when around others

If the test is positive and the symptoms do not get better, or they get better but then worsen, a person will need medical treatment.

Negative result

If the COVID-19 test is negative, the amount of SARS-CoV-2 virus a person has in their body may be too low for the test to detect. This is called a false negative. If a person suspects they have contracted it but gets a negative result, they can try testing again in 1–2 days.

If the result is accurate, it means something other than COVID-19 is causing swollen sinuses.

It is best to contact a doctor if a person has swollen sinuses in combination with:

  • a high fever
  • severe pain or swelling in the face, forehead, or ears
  • chronic sinus pain or impaired drainage that does not go away after 10 days
  • vulnerability to infections or a suppressed immune system, as a doctor may be able to begin antiviral treatment

Seek medical help immediately if a person develops:

Blocked sinuses can be uncomfortable. To relieve the symptoms, a person can try:

  • Steam and heat: Inhaling steam during a hot shower or bath may help. Alternatively, people can inhale steam from a bowl of water with a towel over their heads. Warm compresses may also ease any pain.
  • Massage: Massaging the sinuses may help with fluid drainage. People can learn sinus massage techniques or try pressing sinus pressure points.
  • Saline rinse: This involves cleaning the nasal passages with a saltwater solution, also known as a sinus flush.
  • Pain medication: Acetaminophen or other over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications may help reduce discomfort and fever.
  • Decongestants: OTC decongestant medications may help relieve a blocked nose. Some also contain pain medications, so make sure to check the ingredients.
  • Nasal spray: Nasal steroids may help reduce inflammation. However, these medications can also have side effects.

People can ask a pharmacist for advice on which products to use.

If the sinuses remain swollen after the COVID-19 infection is gone, a person may have a different type of sinus problem or long COVID.

“Long COVID” refers to symptoms that continue for weeks, months, or years after COVID-19. Scientists have reported cases of chronic sinusitis following COVID-19 infections, as well as persistent loss of the sense of smell.

Although doctors do not yet know what causes these symptoms, a person’s risk of getting long COVID is higher if they have severe COVID-19, a weakened immune system, or are not up-to-date on their vaccines.

A person with ongoing sinus symptoms after COVID-19 may benefit from treatments for chronic sinusitis. However, more research is necessary to confirm this.

COVID-19 may lead a person to develop swollen sinuses. It is unclear how often this is a direct result of SARS-CoV-2 rather than the result of a secondary problem.

For example, people can develop bacterial sinus infections after a virus. Sinus inflammation can also occur due to other viruses, allergies, or fungal infections. In some cases, persistent sinus swelling may be a symptom of long COVID.

If there is a possibility a person has COVID-19, it is best for them to take a test. Symptoms of the virus usually resolve without medical treatment. However, anyone who develops severe or long lasting sinus swelling will need to seek medical attention.