Is It a Cold or a Sinus Infection?
Tell the difference between colds and sinus infections by checking these symptoms.
Symptoms of a Sinus Infection (Sinusitis) continued...
Sinusitis simply means inflammation of the sinuses. Whether it’s caused by a
cold, an infection or allergies, any swelling of the sinuses can produce
symptoms such as:
- Pressure or pain behind the eyes or cheeks
- Pain in the top teeth
- Green or yellow nasal drainage
- Post nasal drip
People also complain of fatigue, difficulty breathing through the nose,
decreased sense of smell, and restless sleep.
“If you think you have a cold every month or every other month, because your
sinuses are flaring up, it’s probably not a cold but a chronic sinus
infection,” says Josephson.
How to know the difference? “A cold comes once a year and lasts for three to
five days, and then it’s gone and you don’t have anything till the following
year,” he says.
There are three types of sinusitis:
- Acute sinusitis usually lasts less than four weeks.
- Chronic sinusitis brings on symptoms that last more than 12 weeks.
- A third type of sinusitis is the recurrent infections of the sinuses, often
four or more bouts of acute sinusitis a year, usually from viruses or
Treating Sinus Infections
If you suspect you have a sinus infection and it hasn’t resolved after a few
days, you should probably head to the doctor for a physical examination. The
doctor may order an X-ray or imaging of your sinuses to aid in diagnosis.
Sinusitis infections and their symptoms can be treated with medications.
Decongestants and antihistamines to decrease the swelling in your sinuses and
nasal passages may be prescribed. Most people recover from sinus infections
without the need for antibiotics. However, if your symptoms have not resolved
after 10 to 14 days, antibiotics are often prescribed.
Nasal saline, either in spray form or in the popular neti pot, has been
shown to improve nasal symptoms and frequency of sinus infections. Just washing
the nose out with a sterile salt water mixture helps. A 2007 study in
Archives of Otolaryngology found that patients who use neti pots
have improved symptoms and reduced frequency of infections.
Inhaled Nasal Steroids
Patients with chronic or recurrent sinus infections may also benefit from a
nasal steroid spray, which is an anti-inflammatory applied directly to the
sinus tissues. Steroids are an effective way to prevent sinus infections.
Inhaled nasal steroids can reduce tissue swelling and prevent sinus passages
from becoming blocked.
In some cases when sinusitis becomes chronic or long lasting, surgical
procedures may be necessary to expand the sinus cavity to allow adequate
Common colds and the occasional sinus infection are easily cared for by your
primary care physician. If, however, you are bothered by chronic infections or
recurring sinus symptoms, your doctor may refer you to an otolaryngologist, an