blowing nose sniffles sinus infection cold sinusitis

Too Many Sniffles? It Could Be a Lot More Than That

Suffering through sniffles and a sore throat? While you might blame the detested common cold for your troubles, your symptoms may actually line up more with a sinus infection, or sinusitis.

A cold and a sinus infection can look quite similar with their sore throats and post-nasal drip. However, since nearly 30 million people get chronic sinusitis every year, it’s a good possibility you could have it, too. If you do discover that you have a sinus infection, you may be able to get targeted treatment that your body needs.

What causes sinusitis? At the core, a sinus infection is an inflammation of the sinus cavities. You have four of these in specific areas, including on your forehead, behind your cheeks, between your eyes and near the bridge of your nose (ethmoids). Because they’re in such distinct locations, you can pinpoint a sinus infection with high accuracy if you have symptoms around these areas.

So why do sinus infections happen? They occur for a number of reasons, and the cause isn’t always obvious. First of all, the tissue lining of the nasal cavities might be inflamed or blocked due to allergies, a common cold, bacteria or irritants like nasal sprays or cigarette smoke.

Related: The Secrets of a Flu-Free Kid This Fall

Also, chronic dryness of mucous membranes can lead to an infection. You might experience this dryness because of dehydration, medications, or a lack of humidity in the surrounding air.

In rare cases, the infection may be the result of fungus. These cases require immediate medical attention because the fungus can grow and cut off blood circulation.

10 signs of a sinus infection. Although a sinus infection may have some similar symptoms to the common cold, a few signs will give away the true culprit.

1.) Facial tenderness. The blockage or inflammation may cause a general aching in your face.

2.) Pressure in any of the sinus locations mentioned above. Though not always, you may feel pain in the sinus cavities since they are directly affected.

3.) Congestion. Most cases of sinusitis will have some blockage, altering your sense of smell or taste, or voice.

Most of the time, acute sinus infections can be effectively treated at home.

4.) Earache. Fluid may get trapped in your ear with a sinus infection, resulting in an ear infection as well.

5.) Sinus headache. Similar to the facial tenderness, congestion and inflammation may cause an overall ache in the sinus cavities of your forehead.

6.) No response to over-the-counter (OTC) nasal medications. You may have a bacterial sinus infection.

7.) Puffy eyes. Inflamed sinuses in this area may cause the blood vessels surrounding your eyes to swell.

8.) Thick, discolored mucus. Discolored mucus suggests that the body is trying to fight off infection.

9.) Bad breath. When foul-smelling infected mucus starts dripping down the back of the throat (post-nasal drip), you may notice a smell to your breath, too.

10.) Sore throat. Post-nasal drip and coughing may cause irritation to the back of the throat.

Treating sinusitis. Most of the time, acute sinus infections can be effectively treated at home. Home treatment includes:

  • using a steam vaporizer or inhaler
  • clearing out passages with a nasal rinse
  • taking OTC decongestants
  • applying a warm compress
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • getting rest

If the symptoms last for longer than a week or more, you should seek treatment from a doctor. At that point, your treatment will vary based on the type of infection you have.

Related: ‘Should I Take Vitamin C if I Have a Cold?’

Antibiotics. For instance, a bacterial sinus infection will need an antibiotic to help your body fight it off. Again, your doctor may suspect a bacterial infection if you have bad breath or if the infection doesn’t respond to other treatments.

Steroids. Sometimes, a doctor may prescribe nasal or oral steroids. These help to reduce the swelling in the sinuses.

Allergy medications. If allergies are irritating your sinuses, you may simply need the proper allergy medications to get rid of the problem. In chronic cases where you don’t know the cause, you might consider undergoing allergy testing.

Surgery. A less common treatment method is surgery. Your doctor will usually recommend it if you have severe, chronic sinusitis that won’t go away or if you get sinusitis multiple times per year. During surgery, the doctor will actually enlarge your sinus cavities to encourage proper drainage.

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Because of many similar signs to each other, sinus infections can sometimes mask themselves as a common cold. In some cases, the infection may have even started as a cold and worsened. To tell the two apart, try comparing what you’re experiencing with the 10 common symptoms listed above. Then, if your symptoms are persistent, you can better hone in on and describe your infection’s symptoms to your doctor.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel’s senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. This Fox News article is used by permission; it also appeared in

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Last Modified: October 17, 2017, 7:37 am

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