Common Cold vs Sinus Infection


  • • The average American gets at least two common colds (upper respiratory infections) each year.
  • • Children in day care and school may get as many as ten or more colds.
  • • These colds are caused by viruses and generally begin with an infection in the back of your nose which starts as a sore throat.
  • • As the sore throat resolves, nasal congestion starts and sinus passages can become blocked.
  • • Sinus inflammation and infection may develop as a result of blocked sinus passages.
  • • Bacteria, viruses and even fungi can grow more readily in sinuses that cannot drain properly.
  • • Normal cold symptoms generally improve within a week.


  • • Sinus cavities humidify and warm the air we breathe, aide with our sense of smell and improve the quality of our voices.
  • • Mucus production is a normal function of our sinuses and moisturizes as well as cleans out our nasal and sinus passages.
  • • Tiny hairs or cilia inside our sinuses and nose work to sweep out the mucus via the nose or throat.
  • • When sinus passages become blocked by inflammation or obstruction and the sinuses cannot drain properly, microorganisms (viruses, bacteria) can multiply and cause an infection.
  • • Blocked sinus cavities clogged with mucus can also cause pressure and pain.
  • • Anatomical abnormalities such as a deviated nasal septum may also contribute to sinus issues.


A sinus condition results in symptoms lasting several weeks or more and on exam changes in the nasal mucosa are evident. Symptoms may include:

  • • nasal obstruction
  • • congestion
  • • runny nose
  • • thick (yellow or green) discharge
  •  • loss of smell
  • • headache
  • • facial pain or tenderness
  • • ear pain
  • • upper jaw and/or teeth pain
  • • bad breath
  • • cough (may be more severe at night)
  • • sore throat (from postnasal drainage)
  • • tiredness or general fatigue
  • • may include fever


If you have experienced a number of these signs and symptoms you may have a sinus infection.  Please ask your primary care physician about treatment. If your symptoms have not improved with treatment by your primary care doctor, ask your physician about being referred to our office.


Antibiotics: will only help if the sinus infection is a bacterial infection.

Antihistamines: will help if you have a frequent runny nose, although these are used particularly in patients with allergies.

Nasal Decongestants: may offer temporary relief by reducing congestion.

Steroids; Oral and/or Nasal: effective in reducing inflammation.

Surgery: In some cases may be indicated and can help improve the flow of the various sinus cavities. The surgeon removes obstructive and/or inflamed tissue and trapped mucus. 


Irrigating the sinuses frequently with saline or salt solution on a daily basis can help keep nasal passages and sinuses clear. You can purchase over the counter saline solution or make your own solution using room temperature water that has been boiled or distilled water; mix 1-2 tsp of salt per quart of water. Netty pots may also be beneficial for a more rigorous irrigation and are available over the counter or at our office.

If you have allergies, take the necessary steps for avoiding exposure or seek treatment by a specialist if over the counter medications are no longer controlling your symptoms. You may wish to discuss allergy testing and treatment options with your physician or with one of our providers.

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