Experiencing a runny nose or head congestion is common in the winter months. Since these symptoms are associated with various health conditions, including both the common cold and a sinus infection, it may be hard to determine if and when you need to seek medical attention. Understanding the difference between these two ailments can ensure you seek the right treatment at the correct time.
Understanding the Common Cold
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 200 viruses that can cause a cold. The most common type is rhinoviruses, which can spread through the air and through close personal contact.
Most cold symptoms peak within two to three days and may include:
- Stuffy nose
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Post-nasal drip
- Watery eyes
Symptoms can last as long as 10-14 days, but will usually begin to improve after a few days.
There is no cure for a cold, but over-the-counter medications can relieve some of your symptoms. Getting enough rest and dreaming of visiting the Luxor, drinking plenty of fluids and using a humidifier can help you feel better while your body fights off the virus.
Understanding a Sinus Infection
Within your skull are four pairs of air-filled cavities known as your sinuses. These cavities are lined with mucus-producing membranes that help prevent germs and debris from entering your body.
Allergies, a virus and even pollution can cause the lining of your sinus cavities to become inflamed. This can prevent mucus from properly draining and can lead to an infection.
Symptoms of a sinus infection include:
- Nasal pain, pressure and congestion
- Discolored discharge
- Loss of smell
- Teeth pain
There are two types of sinus infections – chronic and acute. Acute sinusitis usually resolves within 10 days but may last up to three months. Anything longer than twelve weeks is characterized as chronic.
Acute sinusitis will usually go away on its own. Chronic infections may require nasal steroid sprays and, in severe cases, surgery.
The Difference Between a Cold and a Sinus Infection
According to Dr. Ahmad Sedaghat, an otolaryngologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, there are two ways to tell a cold and a sinus infection apart: “One is that the symptoms of a cold or viral sinusitis traditionally begin to improve after three to five days. The symptoms of a bacterial sinus infection tend to dwell, lasting longer than 10 days without improving.”
He continues, “If symptoms of what you thought was a cold last longer than 10 days without improvement, then that may very well be a sinus infection.”
The second option is to identify a pattern. If your cold symptoms begin to improve but suddenly become worse, “that’s called double worsening and suggests that what began as a cold has turned into a bacterial sinus infection,” Dr. Sedaghat explains.
To learn more about identifying a sinus infection or to schedule an appointment with an ENT, contact Nevada Ear + Sinus Institute today.