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Do you have a stuffy nose? Sore throat? Cough? It’s a pretty common story, and lots of winter illnesses could fit the bill. You may be asking yourself if you have a cold or a sinus infection, but did you know that you could have both?

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December 10, 2018

Colds and sinus infections are two partners in crime (and sickness) that can leave you reaching for your hot tea and tissues.

When the weather turns cold, we begin watching out for evidence that the normal culprits of winter illness are coming – runny nose, sore throat, or headache – that could signal a cold or the flu. Many of these illnesses share symptoms, and it can be difficult to determine exactly which sickness you’re facing.  It gets even harder when they gang up on you, like when a cold becomes a sinus infection. To help ward off these villains of winter, we’re sharing their sickness profiles – because shouldn't it be a crime for these ailments to join forces? We think so!

The Common Cold

a woman sitting on a couch wrapped in a blanket holding a cup of tea

Colds (No. 1 on the winter illness least wanted list) can actually be caused by several different viruses with long technical names that are hard to pronounce – rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), human parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, human coronaviruses, human metapneumovirus. What do they have in common? All of them are guilty of causing colds. The usual suspects…oops, we mean symptoms, include sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, stuffy nose, mild fever in children (101-102 degrees Fahrenheit), mild achiness, coughing, and watery eyes. 

The common cold lives up to its name – this illness affects millions of people in the U.S each year. To put it in perspective, that’s about two to three colds per year for adults, and even more for children.1 So the odds are very good that you’ve encountered this illness.

When you catch a cold, symptoms usually take effect gradually. One day, it’s a slight sniffle at the office and two days later you wake up with a cough you just can’t shake. While a cold typically peaks in one or two days, it can hang around for up to two weeks. Because it’s caused by viruses, your cold cannot be cured by antibiotics, but there are steps you can take to relieve some of your symptoms and kick this seasonal scoundrel to the curb:

  • Rest – learn about the importance of R&R time 
  • Drink plenty of fluids – and for additional reading, check out our blog on the best foods to eat when you're sick
  • Use saline sprays or nasal rinses 
  • Gargle warm salt water
  • Use a cool mist vaporizer/humidifier 
  • Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help ease aches and reduce fever. Before starting a new medication, consult your healthcare provider to determine if taking these medications are appropriate for you.

If your symptoms are severe or unusual, if they last more than 10 days, or if a child under three months has a fever or is lethargic, you should see a medical professional.

Sinus Infections

a woman lying on a couch pinching the skin between her eyes with tissues beside her

It’s bad enough to have a lingering cold, but to make matters worse, all that stuffiness can actually trigger another common culprit – the sinus infection. Did you know that 90 percent of patients with a cold have some level of viral sinusitis – making these two true partners in crime. Then, if congestion from the cold causes mucus to get backed up, an infection can develop in your sinuses – the cavities behind your cheekbones, eyes, and forehead – in addition to your cold. The inflammation and swelling that triggers a sinus infection results in a headache, stuffy/runny nose, loss of sense of smell, facial pain or pressure, mucus dripping down the throat (post-nasal drip), sore throat, coughing, fatigue, and bad breath. Sounds, well, just plain criminal, right?

When your cold brings on a sinus infection, healthcare providers call it acute sinusitis. And because other illnesses can lead to sinusitis, it’s the most frequent diagnosis at MedExpress. More than 14 percent of people in the U.S. get sinusitis in a year, with most cases being a result of another illness.2

How to handle this partner in crime depends on your age and the severity of your infection. Most sinus infections are viral, and unlike bacterial sinusit is, will not respond to antibiotics.  Many sinus infections clear up without a prescription. And if you have a sinus infection that lasts more than eight weeks or you have more than four sinus infections in a year, you may have chronic sinus infections, and you should visit a provider for evaluation.1

In the meantime, here are a few ways to help relieve your symptoms:

  • Use a warm compress on your face to relieve sinus pressure.
  • Breathe steam from a bowl of hot water or shower, or use a vaporizer or humidifier to alleviate discomfort.
  • Try a nasal rinse to help relieve pressure and congestion.
  • Use a decongestant, saline nasal spray, Ibuprofen, or acetaminophen to help lessen the pain. But as always, consult your healthcare provider before starting a new medication to determine if taking these medications are appropriate for you.

It’s bad enough to get a nasty cold, but no one wants to add a sinus infection to the culprit list. If you have a lingering cold, or another respiratory illness, your MedExpress provider is here to help. Why wait to feel better? 


References: 

1 National Center for Biotechnology Information: Sinusitis. Last updated January 29, 2018. Accessed October 18, 2018.

2 CDC: Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others. Last updated February 12, 2018. Accessed October 11 2018.

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