Cold? Or Sinus Infection?

young black man blowing nose(BlackDoctor.org) — Did you know that a cold can actually morph into a sinus infection? Because they each tend to have overlapping symptoms, it can be difficult to tell them apart – and to figure out how an effective treatment.

Even though it can be challenging, knowing some of the basics can help you figure out what you need to do to feel better faster.

Is It A Cold?

The common cold is an upper respiratory infection caused by a virus. Cold symptoms usually build slowly over the course of a day or two, peak by days three or four, and then slowly improve around the fifth or seventh day.

With a cold, there’s a cluster of symptoms including:

  • Nasal congestion
  • A run-down feeling
  • Runny nose with clear discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Post nasal drip (nasal fluid dripping down the back of the throat)
  • Fever is uncommon with colds in adults but can be seen in children

Colds may be accompanied by a cough and headache and last three to seven days with or without any treatment.

Treating Cold Symptoms

There is no cure for the cold (yet), and treatment for a cold involves supportive care to help  control symptoms and provide comfort.

Drink Water. The more water you drink, the more it hydrates you.

Take Medicine. Though there is no cure for the cold, medications to make you more comfortable can also help. A decongestant may decrease drainage and open the nasal airways, making breathing easier. Pain relievers can reduce fever and relieve headache. Cough medications may help suppress coughs or expel the mucus that’s causing the cough.

Eat well. Drinking herbal tea with lemon and honey, as well as chicken soup, are popular cold aids that not only provide even more hydration, but important vitamins and minerals that help your body fight off the infection.

If you’re not sure what medicine to take, consult with your doctor or a pharmacist for advice.

How Can A Cold Turn Into A Sinus Infection?

Sometimes colds can set in the sinuses and cause swelling, which prevents the flow of mucus. These colds can actually turn into a sinus infection.

How will you know if that’s what’s happening? If after two or three days with a cold, you feel worse and start to blow a green or yellow discharge from the nose, you may need to see your doctor or a sinus specialist to sort out your symptoms. You may have indeed developed a sinus infection.

Is It A Sinus Infection (Sinusitis)?

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
  • Congestion
  • Green or yellow nasal drainage
  • Headache
  • 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.

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 bacteria.

Treating Sinus Infections

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.

Also, 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.

Nasal Washes. 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.

Surgery. In some cases when sinusitis becomes chronic or long lasting, surgical procedures may be necessary to expand the sinus cavity to allow adequate drainage.

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 ear-nose-and-throat specialist.

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