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What really is a Sinus Infection, anyway?

While the term “Sinus Infection” is tossed around frequently in conversation, do you really know what it means? And what’s the difference between Sinusitis (the medical term for a sinus infection) and the common cold?

Doctors at Centra Care saw a jump this past week in cases of sinusitis, following weeks and weeks of increases in upper respiratory infection cases.

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The common cold is always the result of a viral infection, while certain types of sinus infections are bacterial in nature and are best treated with prescription antibiotics, so it’s important to be able to distinguish between the two.

Sinusitis occurs when one or more of the nasal passages are unable to drain due to inflammation. Many of the other symptoms of sinusitis mimic the common cold. In fact, sinusitis often starts as a cold, but the common cold typically runs its course in about a week. Sinusitis, on the other hand, can last weeks or months if left untreated.

A runny nose, nasal congestion, and sneezing are classic symptoms of sinusitis and the common cold. As are: coughing, headache, sinus congestion, and a sore throat. The key differences are that sinusitis is accompanied by pressure/pain in the head and pain or tenderness of the face (may intensify when you lean over); sinusitis produces a green or yellow discharge, while a cold produces a clear discharge; and sinusitis is typically accompanied by a fever, but is uncommon with a cold.

Sinusitis itself is rarely contagious, but the cold symptoms that precede it can be easily spread from person to person. If your sinusitis is bacterial in nature, your doctor will likely prescribe an antibiotic to shorten its duration. Symptoms may also be treated with over-the-counter medications to alleviate pain, fever and congestion. A humidifier or nasal saline mist and drinking plenty of fluids can be helpful to thin the mucus.


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