Sinusitis 101  Symptoms – Diagnosis – Treatment

Ever get a sinus infection  following a bad cold? It’s called sinusitis.   After a cold, you are at greater risk of developing a sinus infection, because a cold can cause an  inflammation and swelling of the sinuses. While common cold symptoms  can make you miserable, they are common problems and affect millions of Americans each day.  Sinusitis though a common condition, should be treated more seriously.  Here is some information that will help you make a distinction between the two.

What Is a Common Cold?

The common cold is an upper respiratory infection, is usually caused by a virus that infects the nose and throat.

Common cold symptoms include nasal congestion; runny nose; post-nasal drip, headache and fatigue. Cough and mild fever may also accompany these symptoms.

Cold symptoms usually build, peak, and slowly disappear. No treatment is necessary for a cold, but some over the counter  medications can ease symptoms.  For example, decongestants may decrease drainage and open the nasal passages. Pain relievers, like Tylenol or Ibuprofen may help with fever and headache. Cough medication may help, as well. Colds will typically last from a few days to a week.

In some instances, a cold may cause swelling in the sinuses, preventing the outflow of mucus. This can lead to a sinus infection. If you have sinus pain — pain around the face and eyes — and thick yellow or green mucus that persist after a week, then you should see your physician  to determine if you have a sinus infection.

What Is a Sinus Infection?

A sinus infection is inflammation or swelling of your sinuses. Normally, your sinuses are filled with air. When the sinuses become blocked and filled with fluid, bacteria can grow there and cause infection. This infection is sinusitis.

What Are the Symptoms of a Sinus Infection?

Symptoms of a sinus infection include:

  • Thick, yellow, foul-smelling nasal discharge
  • Pressure or pain around the face and eyes
  • Headache (generally in the forehead area)
  • Nasal obstruction
  • Congestion
  • Post-nasal drip
  • A cold that won’t go away or gets worse
  • Fever or cough

Keep in mind that these symptoms can also be seen with a cold. But if they continue for more than 10 days, its likely that you have sinusitis.

What Causes a Sinus Infection?

Any condition that blocks off the sinus drainage channels can cause a sinus infection. Such conditions include colds, allergies, such as hay fever, non-allergic rhinitis, and nasal polyps, which are small, benign growths in the lining of your nose.  A sinus infection may be exacerbated by  anatomic problems such as a deviated septum, which refers to a shift in the nasal cavity. If not treated, a sinus infection can last for weeks.

How Is a Sinus Infection Diagnosed and Treated?

A sinus infection is diagnosed after a physical exam and a medical history evaluation. In some instances, a CT scan of your sinuses may be necessary, particularly if you don’t respond to initial treatment.

Sinusitis is first treated with medication. Antibiotics are usually prescribed if symptoms persist for more than 10 days. Decongestants and other drugs help decrease the swelling in your sinuses and nasal passages. Nasal saline to wash mucus from your nose is helpful in alleviating the symptoms and ensuring that the nasal sprays can be effective.

In rare instances, when sinusitis becomes chronic or long-lasting, long-term antibiotics or surgery may be required.

When Should I Call the Doctor About a Cold or Sinus Infection?

Most colds go away without medical treatment. If you have pain around your face or eyes, along with thick yellow or green nasal discharge for more than a week, you should see a doctor to check if the symptoms are not due to sinusitis.