You’ve felt congested for a few days. You thought you may have had a cold, but now you aren’t so sure. If you are concerned that you have developed a sinus infection, how can you know? And when should you seek medical attention for sinus-related complications? Read on to learn the differences between a cold and sinus infection and when you should go to the doctor.
Is it a Cold?
Caused by many different kinds of viruses, the symptoms of the common cold are nasal congestion, a runny nose, headache, fatigue, and post-nasal drip. Sometimes, a cough or low-grade fever will also happen with a cold. Typically, it takes around a week for a cold to run its course.
A cold can cause the tissue in the sinuses, or interconnected hollow spaces in the skull, to swell. If this happens, the flow of mucus may be impeded, resulting in a sinus infection.
Is it a Sinus Infection?
Sinus infections are very common. WebMD states that about 35 million Americans have at least one sinus infection each year. The sinuses are typically filled with air. If they become blocked and filled with mucus and fluid instead, the resulting sinus infection may also include these symptoms:
- Thick, yellow, foul-smelling discharge from your nose
- Pressure or pain around your face and eyes
- Headache (generally in the forehead area)
- Blockage in your nose
- Post-nasal drip
- A cold that won’t go away or gets worse
- Fever or cough
While many of these symptoms also happen with a cold, if they last longer than 10 days, you have likely developed a sinus infection, also known as sinusitis. If this happens, it is time to make an appointment to see your doctor.
How is a Sinus Infection Treated?
The first line of treatment for both viral and bacterial sinus infections is typically focused on symptom management. Intranasal steroids, saline irrigation, and NSAIDs such as Tylenol are often helpful in managing these symptoms. Other over-the-counter symptom management options can include nasal or oral decongestant medication. However, taking an over-the-counter decongestant for longer than three days is not recommended, as this can have the opposite effect and result in more congestion. Doctors may recommend a brief period of decongestants followed by more regular sinus washes.
Your doctor may also recommend antibiotics to treat your sinusitis if it is suspected to be bacterial in nature. These should be taken for as long as prescribed. To help with the facial pressure and congestion that often occur with a sinus infection, you can try warm compresses and inhaling warm, moist air, either from a vaporizer, a shower, or a pan of warm water. Just be sure the water isn’t too hot to avoid the risk of burns.
While a sinus infection can resolve on its own over time, if left untreated, it is possible to have serious side effects such as an infection of the bone, a brain abscess, or even meningitis. So if you suspect that you are struggling with a sinus infection, seek out a doctor.
If you are seeking treatment for sinus issues, asthma, or allergies, Columbia Allergy is here to help. Our providers take a patient-focused approach that views every person as an individual with unique challenges and goals. Contact us at any of our convenient locations in California, Idaho, Oregon, or Washington to learn more about how we can help.
This is not medical advice. We encourage you to seek assessment and treatment from a trained medical professional to learn more about your unique needs.