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The Difference between Cold and Sinus Infection

At any rate once per year, Anna Lord, a 32-year-old from Seattle, has “practically unendurable torment” behind her eyes, cheeks, and temple. Here and there she has sinus waste, and once in a while the distress touches base with a second rate fever. Her side effects regularly happen after she has had a chilly or hypersensitivity manifestations. She infrequently takes anti-microbials, wanting to rest and trooper through her infection.

Master is inclined to intense bacterial sinusitis, a type of sinus contamination. Every year, around 31 million individuals experience sinus contaminations, which are normally brought on by microorganisms developing in the sinuses, the hard holes found behind the nose, eyes, temples, and cheekbones. Regularly, an icy or sensitivity assault causes mucous layers in the sinuses to swell and square the minor openings into the sinuses, which meddles with their capacity to deplete. The caught bodily fluid permits microbes to breed, bringing about agony and weight in the head and face.

All told, sinus infections cause 73 million days of “restricted activity” in the United States each year, according to a 1997 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with colds, which are caused by viruses, often mistakenly believe they have a sinus infection. While antibiotics can be helpful for those with sinus infections, they are useless when it comes to fighting cold viruses.

“The distinction can be difficult and no one rule applies to everybody,” says Neil Bhattacharyya, MD, an associate professor of otology and laryngology at Harvard Medical School, in Boston. “Only about 2% to 6% of common colds progress to become a true bacterial sinus infection that could benefit from antibiotics.”

Sinus infection or cold?
While the symptoms may be similar, there are some differences between the two conditions that can help you determine which one you have.

The main difference between the symptoms of a cold and sinus infection is how long they linger. Dr. Bhattacharyya says cold sufferers typically have a runny nose for two to three days, followed by a stuffy nose for two to three days. After that, most people begin to feel better. A sinus infection will hang around for seven days or more.

A fever may also signal a bacterial infection. As Lord can attest, sinus infections are sometimes accompanied by a low-grade fever, while colds typically are not. Other viruses (such as the flu) do cause fevers, however.

Another potentially helpful sign is the color of your nasal discharge. Unlike colds, which generally produce clear mucus, bacterial infections can produce greenish or yellow mucus. However, viruses sometimes produce colorful discharge as well, so this isnt considered a fail-safe test.

Dr. Bhattacharyya says there is no rhyme or reason as to why some people tend to develop sinus infections and others dont. But some people have nasal polyps or other problems, including allergies, which can increase their risk of chronic sinus infections.

How to treat a sinus infection
For most people, there are some preventive measures that can help stave off a sinus infection, or, if one occurs, to help relieve symptoms, says William Marshall, MD, an infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He recommends the same things “mothers recommend for a cold,” like rest, drinking lots of fluids, breathing steam, and irrigating the sinuses with saline spray or a neti pot, a container used to rinse the sinuses with saline solution.

Over-the-counter decongestants can also be helpful, but Dr. Marshall says they should not be used for more than three days because some products can exacerbate congestion and raise patients blood pressure and heart rate.

Bacterial sinus infections typically last for about 14 days, but the use of antibiotics speeds up the recovery process by up to five days. Still, according to Dr. Bhattacharyya, about 70% of sinus infections resolve on their own, and many patients, like Lord, prefer to let them run their course.

“Antibiotics mainly help to speed up the healing process,” Dr. Bhattacharyya says. “But before antibiotics were around, people werent dropping dead of sinus infections and they still arent.”

If left untreated, however, sinusitis can cause permanent damage to the sinuses and, in very rare cases, can lead to meningitis, Dr. Marshall says. If patients miss work or other activities due to sinus infections, or if their symptoms recur frequently, they should see a doctor for evaluation.