Colds and sinus infections might have similar symptoms, but they are not the same thing. That doesn’t keep people from confusing the two from time to time or claiming that they have a sinus infection when what they are dealing with is a cold.
Since sinus infections, or sinusitis, and colds have different causes, figuring out which is which is important for getting the treatment right. Usually, colds clear up on their own. Depending on the cause of the sinusitis, antibiotics can help treat it. People who suffer from chronic sinus infections might need a more involved treatment, such as surgery, to help them get relief.
So, do you have a cold or a sinus infection? Here are a few signs that you’re dealing with a sinus infection.
You Have Pressure Behind the Eyes
When you have a sinus infection, the sinus cavities on your face, located behind your cheeks, forehead, and eyes, become inflamed. The inflammation keeps the cavities from draining, so fluid and mucus builds up. All that fluid build-up creates pressure, causing you to feel pain, tenderness or even pinching behind the eyes and in the cheek area.
You’ve Been Sick for More Than a Week
One of the big differences between a cold and a sinus infection is how long the problem lasts. When you have a cold, you’re usually back on your feet after about a week. Symptoms from a sinus infection can last much longer. In fact, the symptoms of a sinus infection might really begin to kick in once you’ve gotten over your initial cold symptoms.
How long your sinusitis lasts depends in large part on the type of sinus infection you’re dealing with. Usually, acute sinus infections clear about within four weeks. If you have a chronic sinus infection, you experience inflammation and certain other symptoms for at least 12 weeks. Some people have what’s known as recurring sinus infections. In those cases, their symptoms clear up after a few weeks, only to come back a few months later.
You Have Lots of Nasal Discharge
A runny nose is part of having a cold. But the quantity and quality of your nasal discharge can signal whether you’re dealing with a sinus infection or basic cold. Usually, mucus or nasal discharge when you have a cold is clear. There might be times when the mucus is yellow or light green in color due to the cold virus, but generally speaking, it’s clear.
When you’re dealing with a bacterial infection in the sinuses, the mucus is often yellow or green. It also tends to be much thicker than the mucus you produce when you have a cold and there tends to be a lot of it. Some people also experience post-nasal drip, which occurs when the mucus travels from the nasal passageways and sinuses down the throat.
Your Breath Smells Unpleasant
Here’s an unexpected sign that you’re dealing with a sinus infection: you’re also dealing with bad breath. The secretions produced by post nasal drip tend to contain a fair amount of bacteria. As you might know, bacteria tends to have an unpleasant odor. Plus, those secretions are also a good source of food for the bacteria that naturally exists in your mouth.
You Have a Fever and/or a Headache
You might experience a headache when you have a cold and some adults do get a mild fever. But fevers during colds aren’t that common and the headache you might have is often due to tension or because of the frequent nose blowing.
Sinus headaches are very different. The pain is usually located in the front of the head, near the forehead. Some people develop what feels like a toothache, though, and others have what feels like an earache. Since mucus has a chance to collect and build up in the sinuses overnight, many people note that their headache pain is worse in the morning when they have a sinus infection.
If you have a cold that seems like it just won’t quit or you’re experiencing intense headache pain, lots of mucus or have noticed an unpleasant breath odor, the odds are very likely that you’re dealing with a sinus infection and not a cold. Your doctor can recommend the most appropriate treatment for you to help you get back on your feet ASAP.
ABOUT DR. RUBINSTEIN
Dr. Rubinstein has nearly sixteen years of experience helping patients with sinus problems in the Hudson Valley. A board certified facial plastic surgeon and board certified otolaryngologist, he has extensive knowledge of laser procedures, facial plastic surgery, and nasal and sinus treatments, which allows him to improve aesthetics as well as functionality of the nose and facial features. Dr. Rubinstein received his board certifications through the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the American Board of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. To learn more about the signs of sinusitis and your treatment options, schedule an appointment with Dr. Rubinstein at the Hudson Valley Sinus Center by calling 845-562-6673.