What Is A Sinus Infection And How Is It Different Than A Cold
Each year, about 31 million Americans experience sinus infectionsalso called sinusitiswhich are usually caused by germs growing in the sinuses, the hollow cavities found behind the nose, eyes, brows and cheekbones.
Most often, viruses cause sinus infections, but bacterial infections can cause sinusitis too, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Typically, a bacterial or viral infection causes mucous membranes in the sinuses to swell and block the tiny openings into the sinuses, which interferes with their ability to drain. The trapped mucus allows bacteria to breed, causing pain and pressure in the head and face.
While colds, which are also caused by viruses, can lead to sinus infections, a cold is not due to a buildup of germs in the sinus cavities. Its also important to note that while antibiotics can be helpful for those with sinus infections, they are useless when it comes to fighting cold viruses.
How You Can Treat Sinusitis Yourself
You can often treat mild sinusitis without seeing a GP by:
- getting plenty of rest
- taking painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
- avoiding allergic triggers and not smoking
- cleaning your nose with a salt water solution to ease congestion
You do not need to use all of the solution, but make a fresh solution each time you clean your nose.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Sinus Infection Versus A Cold
While the symptoms may be similarrunny nose, headache, fatiguethere are some differences between the two conditions that can help you determine which one you have.
The main difference between the symptoms of a cold and a sinus infection is how long they linger. Bhattacharyya says cold sufferers typically have a runny nose for two to three days, followed by a stuffy nose for two to three days. After that, most people begin to feel better. The CDC notes that the following symptoms are common with colds:
- Bad breath.
Another potentially helpful sign is the color of your nasal discharge. Unlike colds, which generally produce clear mucus, bacterial infections can produce greenish or yellow mucus. However, viruses sometimes produce colorful discharge as well, so this isnt considered a fail-safe test.
Bhattacharyya says there is no rhyme or reason as to why some people tend to develop sinus infections and others dont. But some people have nasal polyps or other problems, including allergies, which can increase their risk of chronic sinus infections.
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How Do You Treat A Sinus Infection Or A Cold
For most people, there are some preventive measures that can help stave off a sinus infection or, if one occurs, to help relieve symptoms. Home remedies that can help are rest, drinking lots of fluids, breathing steam and irrigating the sinuses with saline spray or a neti pot, a container used to rinse the sinuses with saline solution.
Over-the-counter decongestants can also be helpful, but doctors say they should not be used for more than three days because some products can exacerbate congestion and raise patients blood pressure and heart rate.
Bacterial sinus infections typically last for about 14 days, but the use of antibiotics speeds up the recovery process by up to five days. Still, according to Bhattacharyya, about 70% of sinus infections resolve on their own, and many patients prefer to let them run their course.
Antibiotics mainly help to speed up the healing process, Bhattacharyya says. But before antibiotics were around, people werent dropping dead of sinus infectionsand they still arent.
If left untreated, however, sinusitis can cause permanent damage to the sinuses and, in very rare cases, can lead to meningitis. If patients miss work or other activities due to sinus infections, or if their symptoms recur frequently, they should see a doctor for evaluation.
Still Wondering If Its A Cold Or Sinus Infection See A Doctor
Colds and sinus infections can both heal on their own, but when your symptoms become intense or linger for weeks you should seek help from an Ear, Nose and Throat expert. An experienced doctor will be able to review your symptoms and timeline, examine your sinuses to determine the root cause, and provide you with a treatment plan to help you heal quickly. If youre sick and wondering if you have a cold or sinus infection, stop suffering through symptoms and consult with an ENT expert today.
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Best Ways To Treat A Sinus Infection
If you think you may have a sinus infection, see your doctor right away because you most likely need antibiotics, and the sooner you start, the sooner youll feel better.
Sinus irrigation is also recommended for sinus infections as well for colds. It can help ease your symptoms while you wait for the antibiotics to start working. Steroids, decongestants and over-the-counter mucus thinners can also ease your discomfort.
How Severe Are The Symptoms
Most sinus infections go away on their own without severe symptoms or complications. If a sinus infection is caused by bacteria, you may need antibiotics.
Many cases of COVID-19 may be mild or moderate. The World Health Organization estimates that
Heres what to do next whether you think that you have a sinus infection or COVID-19.
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Is It A Cold Covid
One of the challenging things about recognizing COVID-19 and other illnesses is that they can share some of the same symptoms. Many articles have been written comparing the symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza, as these two illnesses have perhaps the most in common. But many symptoms of COVID-19 also resemble those of a cold or sinus infection . Learn to tell the difference and how to get the right treatment for your illness.
Cold Vs Sinus Infection
A cold is an infection caused by a virus that finds a home in your upper respiratory system, including your nose and throat. Over 200 different viruses are capable of causing a cold, though most of the time a type of rhinovirus, one that primarily affects the nose, is the culprit.
Colds can be so mild you may only have symptoms for a few days, or a cold can hang on for weeks.
Because a common cold is caused by a virus, it cant be effectively treated with antibiotics. Some medications can help reduce symptoms, but rest is usually the main way to beat a cold virus.
A sinus infection causing inflammation of the sinuses, also known as sinusitis, is commonly caused by a bacterial infection, though it can be caused by a virus or fungus .
In some cases, you can develop a sinus infection following a common cold.
A cold can cause the lining of your sinuses to become inflamed, which makes it difficult for them to properly drain. That can lead to mucus becoming trapped in the sinus cavity, which, in turn, can create an inviting environment for bacteria to grow and spread.
You can have an acute sinus infection or chronic sinusitis. An acute sinus infection tends to last for less than a month. Chronic sinusitis lasts for more than three months, and symptoms may regularly come and go.
Among the symptoms shared by a cold and sinus infection are:
- fever, though with a cold, it tends to be a low-grade fever
- fatigue, or lack of energy
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How To Treat Your Symptoms
Whether you have a cold or a sinus infection, getting plenty of rest and water is key for healing. Antibiotics are only effective if your issues are caused by a bacterial infection, in which case you will likely be prescribed a course of antibiotic pills or liquid to help the body fight bacteria. There are no effective medications to treat colds or viral infections directly, so treating your symptoms is often the best way to help your body heal and normalize.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Sinus Infection Vs A Cold
While the symptoms may be similarrunny nose, headache, fatiguethere are some differences between the two conditions that can help you determine which one you have.
The main difference between the symptoms of a cold and sinus infection is how long they linger. Dr. Bhattacharyya says cold sufferers typically have a runny nose for two to three days, followed by a stuffy nose for two to three days. After that, most people begin to feel better. The CDC notes that the following symptoms are common with colds:
- Mucus dripping down your throat
- Watery eyes
Alternately, sinus infections usually last a bit longer than a common cold, and may hang around for seven days or more. A fever may also signal a bacterial infection. As Lord can attest, sinus infections are sometimes accompanied by a low-grade fever, while colds typically are not. Other viruses do cause fevers, however. Here’s what the CDC says about the other symptoms of sinus infections:
- Runny nose
- Mucus dripping down the throat
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
Another potentially helpful sign is the color of your nasal discharge. Unlike colds, which generally produce clear mucus, bacterial infections can produce greenish or yellow mucus. However, viruses sometimes produce colorful discharge as well, so this isn’t considered a fail-safe test.
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Tips To Help You Feel Better Now
With respiratory symptoms, there are some things you can do to start getting some immediate relief, according to Dr. Buzzard.
The first tip I have is to take make sure you are getting an adequate amount of rest, as well as fluids. Secondly, over-the-counter medicines for cold symptoms can be helpful for symptoms like sore throat, fever, congestion, and cough. Check with your doctor if you have questions about what is safe and effective, says Dr. Buzzard. My third tip is if you are smoking, stop. Smoking will make your symptoms worse and can increase your risk of secondary infections like sinus infections or pneumonia. Finally, if you are getting worse or youve gone longer than a week without feeling better, come in to see us.
If you think you might have a COVID-19, a sinus infection, or another respiratory illness, a visit to one of Physicians Immediate Cares convenient locations in Illinois, Indianaand Wisconsin couldprovide the relief you need. In addition to caring physicians and staff who have been serving patients for more than 30 years, Physicians Immediate Care also offers evening and weekend hours, and no appointment is needed.
If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, please let us know before you arrive so we can keep you safe with our enhanced health and safety protocols.
How Are Sinus Infections Treated
Many sinus infections caused by a virus will resolve on their own without any treatment with antibiotics, Melinda said. This is important because if you dont need antibiotics, its better not to take them as they can cause side effects and long-term resistance. An infection caused by bacteria, however, will likely require antibiotics.
Sometimes your health care provider may ask you to take over-the-counter medications to help your symptoms and monitor your condition further.
Examples of over-the-counter medication include:
- Saline nasal spray
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief
- A warm compress on your nose and forehead to relieve sinus pressure
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Signs You Have A Sinus Infection
Often, sinus infections occur after a cold, so they may take you by surpriseespecially since they have many of the same symptoms as respiratory infections and are often caused by the same viruses that cause colds. If your symptoms persists for more than a week, it’s worth checking in with your doctor to see if you have a sinus infection. Here are some common sinus infection symptoms to look out for.
If you are experiencing eye pain in addition to other cold symptoms, then theres a good chance that you have a sinus infection. This occurs because the sinuses sit in areas above, below, and next to the eyes, explains Ming Wang, MD, an ophthalmologist based in Nashville, TN. When pressure builds up in these areas, it can cause a dull pain that feels like it’s coming from around or behind the eyes, but it is actually coming from the sinuses,” he says. Dr. Wang says this is one of the most misunderstood symptoms of sinus infections he sees.
Theres nothing worse than being kept awake at night because you are coughing, and it turns out that it could be a sign that your cold is actually a sinus infection. Lying down at night makes it easier for mucus to drip down the back of the throat , irritating the back of the throat and the gag reflex. The body responds instinctively by coughing, says Chirag Shah, MD, co-founder of Accesa Labs and a board-certified emergency medicine physician.
Treatment Options For Sinus Infections
Taking antibiotics can reduce the duration of a sinus infection for about five days. An estimated 70 percent of sinus infections resolve with time, so antibiotics arent always necessary to treat these infections. Other treatments that are available to relieve sinus infections include:
- Nasal decongestant sprays. However, these shouldnt be used longer than 10 to 14 days as they can result in adverse symptoms when used for too long.
- Antihistamines, such as Zyrtec, Allegra, and Claritin, which help to reduce the incidence of allergic reactions in your body.
- , such as Sudafed, to reduce the amount of mucus.
- Using salt water and/or baking soda and water mixtures to clear out the nasal passages. These can help to reduce dryness in the nasal passages that leads to discomfort.
Signs that its time to seek expert help are when your symptoms are keeping you from your work, school, and/or daily activities. You should also seek medical help if your symptoms last longer than two weeks. A long-lasting infection can lead to chronic sinusitis . For this reason, its best to seek medical help to keep the condition from becoming prolonged.
For more information on colds, sinus infections, allergies, and more, call our experts at Allergy & ENT Associates at
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When To See A Specialist
If your sinus infection does not go away after 1 or even 2 courses of antibiotics, you should see an ear, nose and throat specialist.
Some people get sinus infections over and over (especially people who smoke or have allergies and smoking. If these cases, a recurring infection can become chronic if not treated successfully and sinus surgery may be needed.
Color Of Nasal Discharge May Be Darker Not Clear
Have you ever gone to your doctor and she asks When you blow your nose, what color do you see in the tissue? The reason for this question is that colds tend to produce clear mucus, while a hallmark of sinus infections is yellow or green mucus. A virus can also cause mucus to be yellow or green, so its not a definitive test, just a potential clue to what is wrong.
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Taking The Right Medication For The Right Illness
The best thing to do for cold or sinus symptoms during the first seven to 10 days is to treat the symptoms, not the illness. You can do this with medications such as:
- Cough medicine
- Pain reliever
Cold viruses dont respond to antibiotics, so taking them during the first seven days probably wont help. In fact, taking antibiotics when theyre not needed can increase your risk for being infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or other serious antibiotic related problems.
After seven to 10 days, when the symptoms are more likely to indicate a sinus infection, it may be time to ask your doctor about antibiotics. However, sinus infections can and do sometimes go away on their own, just like colds. Ask your doctor if you need an antibiotic or if the infection is likely to go away on its own without medication.
If your symptoms point to allergies, many effective medications are available over the counter to control symptoms, such as antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays. These medications work on all sorts of allergies because they suppress the bodys reactions to allergens, rather than treating the specific allergen. Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness, however, so be cautious of that when taking them. They also do not help stuffiness or pressure symptoms, so adding a decongestant plus a pain reliever as needed can help you ride it out.
How Long Do Symptoms Last
Typically, a sinus infection clears up within 2 to 3 weeks. COVID-19 lasts for about a week or two depending on its severity and your overall health.
A 2020 study surveyed 270 outpatients with COVID-19. Among them, 175 people reported returning to their usual level of health about 7 days after a positive COVID-19 test.
Some symptoms like cough and loss of smell or taste may linger temporarily after COVID-19. Some people may experience long-haul COVID-19, a group of symptoms that persist in the weeks and months following an infection.
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