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Published on February 04, 2020

There’s no quick fix for this winter ailment

Sinus Infection

If you have a cold that just won’t go away, it may not be the common cold. The culprit may be a sinus infection.

“It’s very common this time of year,” said emergency medicine physician Kristen Liska, MD, who treats patients at Cape Cod Hospital’s emergency center and the Cape Cod Healthcare Urgent Care in Hyannis.

“I worked at Urgent Care yesterday, and I had 15 to 20 patients with sinus complaints.”

One main difference between a cold and a sinus infection (also called sinusitis) is that colds tend to have a broader range of symptoms, including cough, while sinus infections are isolated to sinus and nasal congestion.

Viruses that cause these upper respiratory infections, sinus infections and the common cold can last one to three weeks, Dr. Liska said. If the ailment lasts longer than that, there could be an allergy component as well, she added.

The symptoms related to a cold and sinus infection are also a bit different.

“It’s like having a cold virus, but it’s just in the sinuses, so you don’t have the coughing that you would with a cold virus,” she said.

“With a sinus infection, you produce a lot of mucus in the sinus cavities in your cheeks and in your forehead. Most people experience a lot of congestion and pressure, and some people have a runny nose, headache or ear pressure.”

Antibiotics Not Necessary

Doctors will typically treat the symptoms, in order to help people feel better and fight off the infection, she said.

“Most of them go away on their own. Your immune system fights it off.”

Recommended treatments for the symptoms include:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Nasal sprays like Flonase and neti pots to help dry out the sinuses.

Almost all sinus infections are caused by viruses. Very rarely is it bacterial, she said.

“Most sinus infections are viral, however if they are lasting greater than 10 to 14 days, that is when the likelihood that there is a bacterial component increases and we consider antibiotics,” she said.

“I spend a lot of time educating people on when antibiotics are indicated and when they are not, and (sinus infections) is usually a case when they aren’t useful,” she said.

Unfortunately, there is no easy fix for sinus infections, Dr. Liska said. “It just takes the time for your body to fight it off.”

Sinus infections are contagious, and prevention is similar to the flu: lots of hand washing.