A stuffy or runny nose, congestion and sneezing. Several illnesses can cause symptoms that all seem the same. For example, if you’re sneezing and constantly blowing your nose, you might have a cold or you might have allergies. In some cases, those symptoms are because of a sinus infection, which can look like a cold but lasts for longer.
Usually, sinus infections are grouped into two categories: acute or chronic. Acute infections usually last for just a few weeks, if not less, while chronic infections are persistent and ongoing. Another way to divide sinus infection is by the cause. A bacterial sinus infection is caused by bacteria and is usually more serious than a viral infection, which is caused by a virus. Here’s what to know about the two types.
The Symptoms of a Sinus Infection
People often assume that it’s possible to tell the difference between a viral and bacterial sinus infection based on the type of symptoms they experience. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Usually, the symptoms of a sinus infection are the same or very similar whether it’s caused by bacteria or a virus.
Common symptoms of either a viral or bacterial sinus infection include green or yellow mucous/discharge, bad breath, headache, and fever.
How Long a Sinus Infection Lasts
While the symptoms you’re experiencing won’t necessarily help you determine the cause of your infection, the duration of the sinusitis can provide some clues. Often, viral infections don’t last that long. If your sinus infection lasts for about a week, it’s usually due to a virus.
Bacterial sinus infections, on the other hand, can persist for some time. They usually last for 10 days or longer. While viral infections usually start to get better after a few days, bacterial infections tend to get worse over time. Bacteria are usually responsible for cases of chronic sinusitis.
Treating a Viral or Bacterial Sinus Infection
How you treat a sinus infection depends on whether bacteria or a virus is to blame. In the case of a viral infection, your surgeon or doctor is likely to recommend a wait and see approach, since there is no type of medicine that will kill the virus and speed up healing.
While you do have to wait for a virus to clear up on its own, there are some things you can do to make yourself more comfortable in the meantime. Your surgeon might recommend using a saline rinse in your nostrils to help clear away mucus and debris. Pain relievers can also reduce any discomfort you’re experiencing due to headaches or facial pain. A pain reliever can also help lower a fever.
Medicine is available to treat a bacterial sinus infection. If your surgeon determines that bacteria is the source of your infection, he might prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria and speed up healing. Depending on the type of bacteria that’s causing the infection, you might need to take antibiotics for just a few days or for a few weeks.
There’s one thing that’s important to understand about antibiotics: They won’t help viral infections at all. In fact, they might make things worse. While they won’t exacerbate the infection, antibiotics can cause some unpleasant side effects. They can also lead to antibiotic resistance, making future bacterial infections more difficult to treat. It’s important only to take antibiotics if your doctor prescribes them.
Diagnosing a Sinus Infection
Since you can’t tell if an infection is viral or bacterial just from looking at the symptoms, your surgeon will most likely run a few tests to diagnose the problem before recommending treatment. Diagnosing the infection can involve imaging to examine the sinuses and a mucus culture. Taking a sample of mucus from the nose or sinuses will help your surgeon determine if a bacteria is to blame and, if so, what type of bacteria is responsible. Knowing the type of bacteria that’s causing your infection allows your surgeon to prescribe the type of antibiotic that would be most effective in treating it.
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 types of sinus infections and your treatment options, schedule an appointment with Dr. Rubinstein at the Hudson Valley Sinus Center by calling 845-562-6673.