Sinus Infection or Cold?

little girl sneezingWhen you have a cough, runny nose and fever, how can you tell whether it’s a cold or a sinus infection?

You’ve likely heard the term “the common cold,” but probably not “the common sinus infection.” Keep that in mind: while colds happen frequently, acute bacterial sinus infections are much more infrequent, and usually occur after a cold.

Here’s what happens with a sinus infection: your cold causes the mucous membranes in your sinuses to swell. This, in turn, blocks the small openings into your sinuses, so they don’t drain properly. Then, bacteria begins to grow within the mucus.

Check Your Symptoms

Check your symptoms against this chart to help decide if you have a sinus infection. If you suspect you have a sinus infection, you may want to visit your primary care physician or your urgent care provider.

SIGN/SYMPTOM SINUS INFECTION COLD
Facial Pressure or Pain Yes Sometimes
Duration of Illness 10-14 days Less than 10 days
Fever Sometimes Sometimes
Nasal Discharge Whitish or colored Thick, whitish or thin
Headache Often Sometimes
Pain in Upper Teeth Sometimes No
Bad Breath Sometimes No
Coughing Sometimes Yes
Nasal Congestion Yes Yes
Sneezing No Yes

 

Colds Caused by Viruses, Sinus Infections Caused by Bacteria

woman-sneezingWhen it comes to colds, there are many over-the-counter drugs available that can help alleviate some of your symptoms, like pain relievers or decongestants. Some doctors also recommend saline irrigation to help with nasal congestion—essentially thinning the mucus in your nose with salt water—like using a neti pot. However, since colds are caused by viruses, you can only take steps to alleviate unpleasant symptoms, since they cannot be treated by antibiotics.

Sinus infections are different from colds because they are caused by bacteria, and because of this they may improve with antibiotics. If you feel you may have a sinus infection that is worsening, visit your urgent care clinic or primary care physician as soon as possible and get treatment that may help you recover faster.

When Should You Go to Urgent Care?

Still not sure what you have or if you need help?

“One sign of a possible sinus infection is when you have common cold symptoms,  but then develop pain or pressure in your sinuses, or in your teeth, or face. This may also be accompanied by a change in nasal discharge to a yellow or green color. Also, if your cold is lasting longer than 7-10 days it could possibly be due to a sinus infection,” says Dr. Terry Buzzard, Chief Medical Officer at Physicians Immediate Care. “If that’s the case, come in and see us and don’t wait since sinus infections can get worse before they get better.”

Your physician will help by giving you a physical exam and ask questions to diagnoses and determine the best treatment. Depending on your situation, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as antibiotics, decongestants or other drugs that can help relieve your pain and lessen the swelling in your sinuses.

Tips to Help You Feel Better Now

In the meantime, if you have a cold right now, or think you may have a sinus infection, there are some things you can do to start getting some immediate relief now, according to Dr. Buzzard.

little girl sick in bed“The first tip I have is to take make sure you are getting an adequate amount of rest, as well as fluids. Secondly, over the counter medicines for cold symptoms can be helpful for symptoms like sore throat, fever, congestion and cough.  Check with your doctor if you have questions about what is safe and effective,” says Dr. Buzzard. “My third tip is if you are smoking, stop. Smoking will make your symptoms worse, and can increase your risk of secondary infections like sinus infections or pneumonia. Finally, if you are getting worse or you’ve gone longer than a week without feeling better, come in to see us.”

Things to Keep in Mind

While colds can lead to sinus infection, it’s also important to be aware that any condition that blocks your sinuses can lead to a sinus infection, such as allergies or hay fever, as well as nasal polyps, which are small growths within the lining of the nose.  A deviated septum can also be a cause of sinus infections.

If you feel you have a sinus infection and need relief, a visit to one of Physicians Immediate Care’s convenient locations in Illinois and Indiana is one option to consider. In addition to caring physicians and staff who have been serving patients for more than 25 years, Physicians Immediate Care also offers evening and weekend hours, and no appointment is needed.