You’re feeling pretty awful. Your nose is stuffed, you’re tired and achy, and you have a headache. With so many different types of winter ailments out there, you might not be able to tell if you’re dealing with the flu, a sinus infection or something else. Usually, the differences between the flu and other winter illnesses are pretty easy to spot. Here’s how you can tell whether you’re dealing with a sinus problem or something else.
What Causes Sinusitis and the Flu?
Influenza and sinusitis aren’t caused by the same thing. Several influenza viruses (usually grouped as type A, B, or C) cause the flu. Type B influenza viruses get people sick while Type A viruses can get people as well as animals sick. Type C viruses typically cause minor symptoms. Any type of influenza virus can get into your body and make you sick by entering through the eyes, mouth or nose.
Sinusitis can also be caused by a virus but not the influenza virus. Sinus infections can also develop due to bacteria and fungus, and chronic sinusitis can develop because of a problem with the structure of the sinuses or nasal cavity or because of ongoing inflammation caused by allergies or the common cold.
Symptoms of the Flu
The symptoms you experience when you have influenza are different from what you might experience with sinusitis. For example, a fever is common with the flu, and your body temperature usually climbs to 100 degrees F or higher. It’s also very common for people dealing with influenza to have aches all over their body and to feel completely wiped out and exhausted. On top of all that, you might have coughing, a sore throat and nasal congestion, too.
A big difference between the flu and other types of infection is the speed with which the symptoms come on. When you have influenza, your symptoms come on suddenly. One minute you feel fine and the next all you want to do is lie down and rest.
Symptoms of a Sinus Infection
A few symptoms set a sinus infection apart from influenza and other common winter ailments, like a cold. One is the quality of mucous that you end up with when you have sinusitis. When there’s an issue with the sinuses, the mucous is usually thick and green or yellow. It’s also common for people with sinusitis to have post-nasal drip and to feel constantly stuffed up and congested.
The built-up mucous and congestion can also lead to facial pain and sinus headaches. You might feel an intense pressure behind your eyes and forehead. Although people with sinus infections might feel a bit tired because they have trouble sleeping, they usually don’t have the fatigue that’s associated with the flu. Sinusitis also doesn’t typically cause fevers.
Treating and Preventing the Flu
How you treat influenza is slightly different from how you’d cope with a sinus infection. Your doctor might recommend that you take an antiviral medicine to help reduce symptoms or reduce the duration of the infection. Often, though, the recommended treatment is to rest and avoid contact with other people. Certain medications, such as pain relievers and decongestants, can help reduce or relieve symptoms, but they won’t help treat the flu itself.
The best way to prevent influenza is to get a flu shot every year. The vaccine protects against several strains of influenza, including types A and B.
Treating and Preventing a Sinus Infection
How you can treat a sinus infection depends on the cause of the infection, its duration and the severity. For example, if you’re dealing with a form of bacterial sinusitis, your doctor might prescribe you an antibiotic. But if the infection is viral, the best course of action is usually to rest and let the virus run its course. In the case of chronic sinusitis, sinus surgery might be the most appropriate or effective treatment choice.
You can’t prevent a sinus infection with a vaccine but you can reduce the frequency of your infections by learning to avoid the things that trigger them, such as certain allergens or irritants. Rinsing your nasal passages with saline and using a humidifier at home might also help reduce the frequency of sinusitis.
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 sinus infections and your treatment options, schedule an appointment with Dr. Rubinstein at the Hudson Valley Sinus Center by calling 845-562-6673.