Along with a stuffy nose, fever and headache, colds can also produce an unpleasant breath. When it comes to a sinus infection, bad breath is often the first side effect as the sinuses drain into the back of your throat. Luckily, sinus infections are treatable, and when the infection is over, halitosis goes away.
Sinus infections occur when thick mucus or physical structures prevent the sinuses from draining properly, as explained by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Consisting of air-filled structures behind the cheeks, eyes, forehead and nose, the sinuses usually contain no bacteria or other infectious agents. As air flows through them, thin mucus travels through the small hairs in your nasal cavity and drains into the back of the throat.
But when colds and allergies create excess mucus, or nasal polyps, nasal bone spurs and similar structures prevent this mucus from draining – allowing bacteria, viruses and fungi to thrive. Certain medical conditions that prevent the small hairs in the sinuses from working well can also lead to infections in this way.
Ultimately, bacteria-infected sinuses are inflamed. Acute sinusitis lasts less than four weeks, whereas chronic sinusitis may last longer than three months.
How They Create Bad Breath
Colds create bad breath by drying out the mouth as you breathe through it when your nose clogs up. The mucus in infected sinuses, however, smells bad on its own, and the air you breathe out comes into contact with it. Infected mucus drips out of the sinuses and down the back of the throat, where it meets the air you exhale and the odor from the infection transfers to your breath.
You can help improve the smell of your breath by brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste such as Colgate Total® Clean Mint. As important as this habit is, though, this is a short-term fix; your bad breath won't go away until the sinus infection clears up.
Most acute sinus infections clear up naturally, but over-the-counter (OTC) treatments such as antihistamine tablets, nose sprays, acetaminophen and throat lozenges can ease your symptoms. Keep in mind you should avoid using nasal decongestants for longer than three to five days. Instead, drink plenty of (hot) liquids, use a humidifier and spray nasal saline only when you need to.
If symptoms don't improve after two to three weeks, or if you experience a headache, a fever over 102.2 F or severe swelling around the eyes, visit your physician. He or she can prescribe antibiotics for a bacterial infection or another appropriate medication given the source of the problem.
Preventing Sinus Infections
If you regularly experience sinus infections, ask your physician about more systemic tests for finding the cause. An ear, nose and throat specialist can examine your sinuses with a fiberoptic scope, or order MRI or CT scans to see if the structure of your sinuses is slowing the travel of mucous.
When a dental checkup is considered all clear but you still have bad breath, a sinus infection may be the cause. And although the infection may go away by itself over time, those that don't should prompt an appointment with your physician. By working quickly to treat your sinus infection, bad breath can turn fresh again so you can ride out the condition with as few side effects as possible.