Sinus infection or common cold: How to spot the difference


It’s cold and flu season, but what’s that mean for sinus infections?

While there is no “peak” sinus infection season per se, they do tend to occur more in the winter months when other viral illnesses are spreading, but there are some key differences that set them apart.

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“A sinus infection is when there is inflammation in sinuses as the result of a bacterial or viral infection,” Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network, told Fox News via email.

Parikh explained that while a sinus infection can result in tooth pain, sinus pressure, headaches or even fever and chills, which can all mimic a common cold, the latter will typically clear up within three to five days, whereas a since infection can last much longer and even require antibiotics to treat.

“Usually colds resolve on their own over three to five days with supportive care such as fluids, rest and over-the-counter pain meds,” Parikh said. “Sinus infections can last longer, may need antibiotics or steroids and has the potential to worsen into bronchitis or pneumonia in at-risk populations.”

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Those at risk of suffering from sinus infection complications include the elderly, patients with weakened immune systems, or others with chronic illnesses including diabetes, asthma and heart disease. Parikh advised seeking medical attention if symptoms aren’t improving with five to seven days, or if it’s getting worse and you are experiencing breathing difficulties or become dizzy.

Parikh also said changes in mental status may also indicate a worsening infection.

While sinus infections may come from bacteria and viruses, or even fungi in rare instances, Parikh said there are several steps you can take to avoid contracting them.

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“Wash your hands frequently and make sure you get appropriate vaccines if indicated such as the pneumonia vaccine – which actually protects against both sinus infections and pneumonia since it is the same bug that commonly causes both,” Parikh said, adding that the influenza vaccine can also offer protection.

Parikh also said that anyone who gets frequent sinus infections, which amounts to more than two per year, should be evaluated by an immunologist to check for any deficiencies possibly causing the recurrent infections, or to check for an allergy which is “often misdiagnosed as sinus infections.”

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Parikh added that meeting with an ear nose and throat surgeon can help eliminate any “mechanical or structural causes.”



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