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fiona 02/22/2021 04:31 AM CST

Differences between cold and sinus infection


We've all had a stuffy nose, postnasal drip, and a general ill feeling. But when does a common cold turn into something else? Most people know that the common cold and a sinus infection (also called sinusitis) have somewhat similar symptoms, but not everyone knows the difference between the two. Sinusitis is more than just a cold and must be properly cared for so that it is not chronic.

However, developing sinusitis after a cold is not uncommon - about 90% of cold patients have at least one element of sinusitis or a sinus infection. And since these infections can create further complications if not treated early, understanding how to tell the difference is vitally important.

In this article, we've compiled information from doctors and medical research to help you better understand the critical differences between a cold and sinusitis.

And since you surely want to stay as healthy as possible, we've also included tips on how to deal with any of them.

The common cold, where it all begins

Most often, the common cold comes from a virus. If you are one of the countless people who have experienced it, you know that even a minor mistake can have a significant negative impact on your life. A common cold makes it difficult to get through the day, and even harder to stay focused at work or school.

However, a cold doesn't hit you all at once. The virus develops in three stages:

  1. Stage One: This stage can begin hours after exposure to the cold virus. Usually, you will notice a sore or itchy throat and a lack of energy.
  2. Stage Two: This is when the most common cold symptoms appear. You likely have a stuffy nose, headache, and cough. In some cases, you may also have a fever.
  3. Stage Three: This is the final stage of the cold. While you will likely start to feel better, you will likely experience a runny or stuffy nose.

However, in this phase, the symptoms begin to disappear.

What can you do to deal with a common cold?

In terms of the severity of illness, a cold is relatively harmless. But that doesn't mean that a bad cold doesn't make you miserable. And while some people may mistakenly think that antibiotics help, the truth is the opposite is true: Since a virus causes most colds, antibiotics won't help.

In fact, they can even cause more damage. Because bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics, taking them when you don't need them can also make you more susceptible to a worse bacterial infection in the future.

Most colds go away with time. But to speed up your recovery, there are some foods to avoid when you get sick with a cold:

  • Alcohol and Caffeine: One of the main reasons to avoid both alcohol and caffeine is that they dehydrate you. And when you have a cold, staying hydrated is one of the most important things you can do to recover quickly. Also, alcohol suppresses your immune system, and you need your immune system to be able to fight your cold.
  • Sugar and Refined Carbs - These two ingredients are known to increase inflammation, and having more inflammation is something you don't want when dealing with a cold. In addition, sugar reduces the ability of white blood cells to fight infection. Sugar is contained in almost everything you eat daily if you are someone who likes things with sugar: jams, juices, breads, yogurts, jellies, sauces, cereals, etc.
  • Fatty foods: These foods require a lot of energy from your body to break down. And like refined carbohydrates, they can also cause increased inflammation. The fatty foods we refer to are those prepared with a lot of fat or those with contained trans fats.

If you have a cold, do you need to see a doctor?

General medical wisdom on treating colds says that, in most cases, you don't need to see a doctor for a cold. However, some over-the-counter medicines can help.

These include pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. And decongestant nasal sprays or cough syrups can also help relieve symptoms.

However, if you have a very high or persistent fever, consulting a doctor may be a good idea. The flu, a more serious illness, may sound like a cold, but your symptoms start much earlier.

Instead of a multi-stage onset like you would have a cold, the flu begins right away with a high fever and severe symptoms.

When can a doctor tell you that you have a sinus infection?

Doctors commonly accept that most sinus infections begin with a common cold or an allergy or flu episode.

However, even current medical research indicates that there are not many reliable ways to tell a sinus infection from a cold right away.

Doctors have observed that many sinus infections develop when cold symptoms do not improve. As we mentioned earlier, a cold should not be treated with antibiotics. But in many cases, a sinus infection must be treated with antibiotics for it to fully resolve.

Currently, doctors believe that if the symptoms of a cold show no signs of improvement after 7-10 days, it may be time to consider antibiotic treatment.

If you have a sinus infection, you will likely start to feel much better after a few days of treatment. But to be sure the infection clears completely, be sure to take your entire course of antibiotics.

That said, most of us want to avoid unnecessary visits to the doctor; These may require you to take time off from work and, in many cases, cost money as well. We have also compiled a list of sinus infection signs and symptoms that you can identify yourself.

What are some of the symptoms you may notice?

Sinusitis usually starts out like a cold, but as it develops, there are a few key symptoms you'll likely notice:

Sinus pressure - This is one of the most prominent symptoms. Especially when bending over, you will feel tension in your sinuses. Since these are cavities throughout the skull, this type of pressure is often felt as facial pain.

Headaches: Sometimes this continuous pressure, caused by inflammation in the sinuses, will cause headaches. Sometimes these headaches can be severe and debilitating.

Congestion that doesn't go away: Colds cause a stuffy nose, but that stuffiness usually goes away after a week or two. When there is a sinus infection, you will probably feel congested, but this feeling will not go away.

Tooth pain - Some sinuses are very close to the teeth, so sinus pain can spread to the teeth.

General malaise: Even though it is not a cold, a sinus infection still has a significant effect on your body. You are likely to feel sick, tired, and generally unwell.

Since many doctors consider that the best thing in case the symptoms do not improve in 7-10 days is the treatment with antibiotics, it is advisable that you schedule an appointment with your doctor if you think that you have developed sinusitis.

And while seeing a doctor when symptoms have just started can be too early, it's also important not to wait too long. Since sinusitis often worsens over time, be sure to see a doctor before symptoms get noticeably worse.

How can you reduce your risk of any disease?

We all know that, in a perfect world, we could avoid catching the cold virus. And while seeing a doctor for a cold isn't likely to do much, there are steps you can take to shorten the duration of your illness. By taking these preventative steps, you'll be well equipped to start feeling better very soon:

  • Get a lot of sleep: sleeping gives your body time to heal. And since you want your immune system to fight a cold as quickly as possible, getting rest as soon as possible is likely to shorten its duration.
  • Stay hydrated - Colds involve a buildup of mucus. When you stay well hydrated, mucus thins out and is easier to remove, either by blowing your nose or coughing.
  • Eat hot soup: soup contains fluids, heat, and electrolytes, which are all things that can help you fight a respiratory illness.
  • Take care and support your health at night: this step is especially useful against coughs. This prevents sinus congestion from reaching the throat to reduce coughing.

If you still don't feel well after following these steps, it may be a good idea to take an expectorant, cough suppressant, or decongestant. While they won't always eliminate your cold, they will likely help you feel more comfortable while you wait for the cold to pass. They can also make sinusitis less likely.

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