Sinuses are the air-filled pockets in the face. They are located above and below the eyes along either side of the nose. When fluid builds up in any of these cavities, viruses or bacteria can grow. This can cause a sinus infection. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (ACAAI), about 31 million people in the U.S. deal with a sinus infection every year. As a result, Americans spend $1 billion each year on over-the-counter medications and $150 million on prescription treatments to treat these infections.
Do I Have a Sinus Infection or a Cold?
There are many similarities between the symptoms of a sinus infection and a cold. The most common symptoms of a sinus infection include:
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose
- Facial pain or pressure
- Mucus dripping down the throat (post-nasal drip)
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
There are two main differences that can help a person determine if they have a cold or a sinus infection, however. First, a cold typically will pass in about 10 days, while a sinus infection may last longer. Second, the mucus someone has with a cold will be watery and clear. With a sinus infection, mucus will typically be thick and green or yellow. Keep in mind, green or yellow mucus can be a normal finding, so this alone does not mean you have a sinus infection.
Contact a doctor if you’re experiencing any severe symptoms, such as headache or facial pain. If you have symptoms for more than 10 days with no improvement or fever for three to four days, you should contact a health care provider. Finally, if your symptoms become worse after a period of improvement or you have had multiple sinus infections in a year, you should consult your doctor.
Risk Factors for Sinus Infections
Some people are more prone to sinus infections than others. Some factors that can increase an individual’s chances of developing a sinus infection include:
- A previous cold
- Seasonal allergies
- Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke
- Structural problems within the sinuses (such as growths on the lining of the nose or sinuses, known as nasal polyps)
- A weak immune system or taking drugs that weaken the immune system
Treating and Preventing Sinus Infections
There are many options for treating a sinus infection. A warm compress placed on the nose or forehead can help with any pressure or headache you may be experiencing. Steam from a hot shower or from placing your face over a bowl of hot water can also help alleviate symptoms. Finally, there are over-the-counter decongestants and saline nasal sprays to help with congestion.
Steps that you can take to help prevent a sinus infection from happening in the first place include:
- Practicing good cold hygiene — stay away from those who are sick and frequently wash hands
- Managing allergies
- Avoiding pollutants like cigarette smoke
- Using a humidifier in the home
Sometimes antibiotics may be needed to treat a sinus infection. However, it’s important to use these drugs sparingly because of an increase in antibiotic resistance.
If you are seeking treatment for asthma or allergies, contact Columbia Allergy, with convenient locations in California, Oregon, Idaho or Washington. We take a patient-focused approach that views every person as an individual with unique challenges and goals.
This is not medical advice. If you suspect you may be ill, please consult a healthcare provider for an appropriate diagnosis.