Allergist - The Difference Between Colds and Sinusitus - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Savannah Allergy Associates

Allergist - The Difference Between Colds and Sinusitus

Almost all of us have experienced being ill during the winter months, but can you tell the difference between the common cold and a more serious sinus infection? Both types of illness involve swelling and inflammation of the sinuses that blocks normal mucous drainage, but there are some key contrasts:

Common Cold


Limited Duration
Nasal Congestion
Post Nasal Drip
Fever/Cough May Be Present 
No Treatment Necessary
Over the Counter Medication Relieves Symptoms

Extended Duration/Recurrent
Nasal Congestion
Post Nasal Drip
Headache Usually in Forehead Area
Thick, Yellow, Foul Smelling Nasal Discharge
Pressure/Pain Around the Face/Eyes
Nasal Obstruction
Fever/Cough May Be Present
Requires Diagnosis and Treatment
Antibiotics and Other Prescription Medications Often Prescribed

If you have a common cold, the symptoms will typically build, peak, and slowly resolve over a period of about a week . Sinusitis, on the other hand, can become an ongoing and even chronic illness if not properly treated. Many people who have sinusitis also have allergies, and it is the increased amount of fluid and swelling in the sinuses caused by allergies that provides a breeding ground for infection causing bacteria. Other illnesses such as upper respiratory infections and colds can also create ideal conditions for bacterial growth in the sinuses.

Most colds resolve themselves without treatment, though there are a variety of over-the counter medications that can relieve the symptoms. Always be sure you are aware of side effects, allergies and drug interactions before taking cold medications as they may contain blood-pressure raising components and/or analgesic pain relievers.

Sinusitis should be diagnosed by a physician through a thorough history and physical examination that may even include sinus x-rays. Once diagnosed, the condition will be treated with medications designed to reduce swelling and antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Hot, steamy showers may also be recommended to loosen drainage. In the worst cases, there are surgical procedures that can be used to improve drainage in the sinus cavity.

Adapted from Coping With Allergies and Asthma and material provided by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation

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