It is normal to wonder if you are experiencing a common cold or if it is something more serious, such as a sinus infection. While cold can linger longer than you may expect, there are some ways to determine if what you are experiencing is a sinus infection and requires treatment from a physician.
Symptoms of a Cold
A cold is the result of a virus, and the symptoms can last up to 10 days. A cold normally resolves on its own and does not require treatment. Just because cold does not typically require treatment does not mean the symptoms are benign. A cold can leave you feeling exhausted and miserable.
Common cold symptoms include a sore throat, cough, headache, sneezing, a stuffy nose, excessive mucus production, fever, and fatigue. Colds are caused by viruses, which do not respond to antibiotics. You can treat the symptoms of a cold with over-the-counter medications. Additionally, staying well hydrated and getting plenty of rest will help you fight off the cold.
Rest can be particularly challenging when you have a cold. It can be challenging to get a good night’s sleep because congestion makes breathing difficult while you are lying down. One way to help clear mucus, at least temporarily, is by using a neti pot filled with distilled water that has a little salt added.
Symptoms of a Sinus Infection
A sinus infection develops when your nasal passages become infected. Sinus infections can be challenging to treat. There are a variety of ways your sinuses can become infected. A sinus infection can develop after a cold, as the result of bacteria, or from allergies. The combination of excess mucus that is not draining well, combined with touching the face frequently, can introduce bacteria to the area. Heavily congested nasal passages give the bacteria an ideal place to grow.
Symptoms of a sinus infection include pressure behind the eyes and in the cheeks. A stuffy or runny nose that lasts longer than one week, a lingering headache, and bad breath are also signs of a sinus infection. Someone experiencing a sinus infection may also develop a fever, cough, fatigue, and have trouble smelling. You may also experience a post nasal drip, where mucus drains down the back of your throat. This can make you feel like you need to constantly clear your throat or it may irritate your throat.
A sinus infection will linger without treatment. While a cold will typically clear up on its own in 10 days or less, a sinus infection can last for a month or more. A sinus infection can leave you feeling miserable, and treatment from a health professional may be required to get the condition under control.
Treatment for Sinus Infections
Your body may be able to fight off the sinus infection without medical treatment. If you don’t feel better after a few days, or your symptoms get worse, seek medical advice. Sinus infections can be debilitating if left untreated. Chronic sinus treatments can range from lifestyle changes, such as adding humidifiers to your home, to surgery.
Some common over-the-counter products that provide relief include decongestants and pain relievers. Decongestants work by shrinking the blood vessels in the nose that are swollen. This makes breathing easier. You should not use these products for longer than 3 days as they will lose their effectiveness. Additionally, decongestants can raise blood pressure and should not be used by individuals with high blood pressure unless they have spoken with their health professional first. Individuals with diabetes or heart disease should also speak with their health professional before taking decongestants.
Pain relievers can help the fever and discomfort that often come along with a sinus infection. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin can all effectively manage the symptoms of a sinus infection. You should not give aspirin to any child or teenager who is experiencing a fever, because it can lead to Reye syndrome.
Prescription relief for sinus infections includes steroid nasal sprays and antibiotics. Steroid nasal sprays shrink the swelling in the nasal passages which can decrease congestion. Steroid sprays can also cause uncomfortable side effects, such as nosebleeds and headaches, so it is important to discuss any concerns you have with your doctor. You can decide together if the benefits outweigh potential side effects.
Antibiotics are used to treat the bacteria that cause a sinus infection. It is important to take the entire course of antibiotics, even if you begin feeling better after a few days. This ensures that the bacteria are killed and the infection is cleared. Stopping medication after a few days can create resistant bacteria which is more challenging to treat in the future.
Sinus Headaches and Treatment
Of all the sinus infections you may experience, sinus headaches can be the most painful. Sinus headaches are the result of the infected and inflamed area creating pressure in the nasal cavity. This can lead to intense headaches that radiate into a pain in the ears, jaw, and even teeth. In addition to over-the-counter pain relievers, chronic sinus treatments that provide relief include hot showers or sitting in a steamy bathroom, using a humidifier, and using a saline nasal spray.
If your sinus infection returns after a month or so, or if you develop sinus infections routinely after a cold or during allergy season, your doctor may recommend more aggressive treatment. If the infection is related to allergies, your doctor may recommend aggressively treating those allergies with allergy shots.
Chronic sinus treatments for repeated infections may include surgery. During this procedure, your doctor will remove tissue that may be obstructing your nasal cavity or shave any polyps that may be present. Enlarging the nasal cavity promotes drainage, which removes the breeding ground for bacteria that creates the ideal environment for sinus infections.