When and how does a cold become a sinus infection?

November 12, 2012

When and how does a cold become a sinus infection?

Most people will have experienced a sinus infection that has appeared immediately after a common cold. This is due the cold causing the sinuses to swell and inflame making it more likely for a sinus infection known as sinusitis to develop. It is a horrible and uncomfortable condition but it is incredibly common with millions of Americans being affected by it every day. A common cold is respiratory infection that affects the throat and nose. Common symptoms include congestion of the nasal cavities, a runny nose, headaches and fatigue. It is also quite likely for a cough and sometimes also a fever to develop. One of the more annoying symptoms is known as post-nasal drip, which is the dripping feeling that can occur at the back of the throat and is the gradual release of nasal fluid making its way down the throat. Symptoms of a cold will peak and then begin to disappear by themselves. Medication is available to provide relief for some of the symptoms such as decongestions to open the nasal passage making it easier to breathe. There are also cough medicines, throat lozenges and pain relief medicines. In some cases a cold will cause the cause the sinuses to swell creating a blockage of mucus. This can lead to a sinus infection and the painful symptoms that come along with it. I sinus infection can be described as the inflammation or swelling of the sinuses. Where your sinuses should be filled with air, it gets replaced and blocked by liquid, which makes a great environment for bacteria to grow and a sinus infection to develop. Common symptoms of a sinus infection include:

  • A thick green or yellow nasal discharge, often with a foul smell

  • Pressure or pain in the face, particularly around the eyes and either side of the nose

  • A headache, usually at the front

  • A blocked nose

  • Generally congestion

  • Post-nasal drip

  • A persistent cold

  • A fever or cough

Many of these symptoms are true of both a common cold and a sinus infection. The distinguishing factor of a sinus infection is the presence of a painful pressure under the eyes and around the face as well as a thick nasal discharge. If you have a sinus infection the symptoms will probably last for a week or longer and may require antibiotics. Other symptoms can be relieved and controlled with other medications such as decongestants. A doctor will be able to confirm a sinus infection through a physical exam and in some extreme cases an X-ray or CT scan may be required. Steaming or taking hot showers are things you can do from home to loosen the mucus and relieve some of the pain caused by the blockage. A nasal saline may also be used to clean out the mucus from the nose. In very extreme cases of chronic sinusitis, surgery may be needed to fully drain the mucus. Most symptoms of a cold, clear up by themselves but if you notice that you also have symptoms of a sinus infection for over a week, it would be a good idea to see a doctor. In most cases your regular doctor will easily treat it but in some circumstances you may be referred to an ear, nose and throat doctor.


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