We are currently looking for oncology pharmacists to join our team! If you are interested in joining ChemoExperts, please click here. Not interested? Hide this message.

Side Effect: Sinus or Upper Respiratory Tract Infection

What is a Sinus or Upper Respiratory Tract Infection?

A sinus or upper respiratory infection can be caused by either viruses, bacteria, and in rare cases, a fungal infection. If the symptoms are isolated to the head, it is sometimes referred to as rhinosinusitis.

A sinus infection is often caused by the common “cold”, which is an infection from a virus. Having “a cold” affects the upper respiratory system, which may ] cause symptoms in the nose (nasal passages), sinuses, pharynx, and larynx.

What does a Sinus or Upper Respiratory Tract Infection look like?

The infection causes inflammation and swelling of the mucous membranes, resulting in symptoms such as nasal congestion, runny nose, headache, facial pain or pressure, sore throat, cough, and fatigue.

Sinus and upper respiratory infections are caused by a variety of viruses, including rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, and influenza viruses. They can also be caused by bacteria, such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae B (which has a similar name, but is different than influenza virus), and Moraxella catarrhalis.

Sinus or Upper Respiratory Tract Infection

Click to enlarge

Who gets Sinus or Upper Respiratory Tract Infections?

Depending upon the type of virus, these infections can be highly contagious and can spread easily from person to person through contact with respiratory secretions, such as mucus, saliva, and nasal discharge. The infection can also be spread by coughing, sneezing, or touching contaminated surfaces.

Anyone can get a sinus or upper respiratory infection, but they are more common in children and adults with weakened immune systems.

Risk factors that increase the risk of having an upper respiratory tract infection include:

In addition to the risk factors above, people with cancer can be particularly vulnerable to these infections, as certain types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy can weaken the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infections. Importantly, not all cancer treatment weakens the immune system.

How do you prevent Sinus or Upper Respiratory Tract Infections?

To prevent sinus and upper respiratory infections, it is important to practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently with soap and water, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, and avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands. Getting vaccinated against influenza virus as well as bacteria such as streptococcus pneumoniae can also help prevent respiratory infections.

How do you treat Sinus or Upper Respiratory Tract Infections?

The treatment for sinus and upper respiratory infections often involves rest, hydration, and over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms, such as decongestants and pain relievers.

In some cases, antibiotics may be prescribed if the infection is caused by bacteria. Some providers will only give antibiotics if sputum cultures or a throat swab are indicative of a bacterial infection.

In patients with cancer, treatment for sinus and upper respiratory infections may be more complicated, as their immune systems may be compromised. In certain instances, antibiotics are prescribed as someone begins a chemotherapy cycle to prevent a sinus or upper respiratory tract infection because getting infected right after certain chemotherapy regimens can be life-threatening until the immune system recovers from the effects of chemotherapy. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate treatment plan for each individual patient.


1. Azoulay E, Russell L, Van de Louw A, et al.; Nine-i Investigators. Diagnosis of severe respiratory infections in immunocompromised patients. Intensive Care Med. 2020 Feb;46(2):298-314.

2. Almirall J, Serra-Prat M, Bolíbar I, Balasso V. Risk Factors for Community-Acquired Pneumonia in Adults: A Systematic Review of Observational Studies. Respiration. 2017;94(3):299-311.

3. Anderson EJ. Respiratory infections. Cancer Treat Res. 2014;161:203-36.

Created: March 13, 2024 Updated: March 13, 2024