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Diagnosing sinusitis

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Your GP can usually diagnose sinusitis from your symptoms.

It is nearly always caused by a viral infection, such as the common cold or flu, and is diagnosed based on the presence of:

  • nasal blockage or runny nose with facial pain, and/or
  • a reduction or loss of sense of smell.

It is acute sinusitis if these symptoms last for less than 12 weeks, and chronic sinusitis if they last for longer than this.

Loss of smell is more common and facial pain less common in chronic sinusitis.

Referral to a specialist

If your sinusitis is severe or keeps coming back, your GP may refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist who will carry out tests to determine the underlying cause.

You may have an X-ray or CT scan to find out the cause of your sinusitis (a series of X-rays are taken for a CT scan, to produce a detailed picture of your sinuses).


  • Bacteria: Bacteria are tiny, single-celled organisms that live in the body. Some can cause illness and disease and some others are good for you.
  • X-ray: An X-ray is a painless way of producing pictures of inside the body using radiation.
Medical Review: October 28, 2009

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