The common cold is one of the most common frequent viral infections that affect individuals. Prevalence of common cold is high – 64% of individuals in the age group of 18 to 30 are known to catch a cold atleast once a year. Some are known to get as many as three infections a year. Most individuals are unable to tell the difference between cold and sinusitis and often end up using the two terms interchangeably. It is time to set the record straight and clearly define the differences between the two. We highlight the differences to assist you in distinguishing between sinus infection vs cold which will help you to manage the conditions accordingly. Let’s start with a quick overview of the symptoms and the conditions.
Symptoms that help to understand the difference between sinus infection vs cold
The main difference between sinus infection vs cold is in the nature of the infection. The common cold is a viral infection that affects the upper respiratory system, while sinus infection is an infection of the sinuses which results in the inflammation of the air filled sacs behind the nose. A sinus infection can be the results of common cold, bacterial infection, or virus.
Symptoms of common cold include – bouts of coughing, nasal congestion, sneezing, tiredness, a sore throat as a result of coughing, headache and fever. The nasal congestion as a result of the mucus gives the uncomfortable feeling of a blocked nose. Fever is typically moderate among adults, while it is higher in children.
Symptoms of sinus infection include – nasal congestion, foul smelling breath, tiredness, partial loss of sensation in smelling, increasingly painful headache, pressure experienced from the inside on the eyes and cheeks, and bouts of coughing. Individuals are most likely to experience thick dripping of mucus in the back of the throat.
Sinus infection vs cold – which lasts longer?
In addition to the differences in symptoms, one of the easiest methods to distinguish between sinus infection vs cold, is the duration of the condition. The common cold typically resolves naturally in around ten days, and in some cases, is resolved within a few days. Sinus infections, on the other hand are known to last for four weeks, and in some cases can last for as long as three months. The duration of the condition is a clear indication of the nature of the infection. While some of the symptoms are similar, it is possible to clearly understand the differences between the two – for instance, the type of nasal dripping/discharge. In the case of common cold, it is not thick or heavily colored, while in the case of sinus infections, the discharge is thick and colored.
Are there any options to treat common cold?
The differences in sinus infection vs cold include the manner in which both the conditions are managed/treated. While there is no cure for the common cold, it is possible to manage the condition through simple home remedies. This includes increased intake of fluids, preferably warm such as warm lemon or clear broth. It is advisable to stay off dehydrating drinks such as caffeine and alcohol. Chicken soup is a great option for reducing congestion and to have a soothing effect. The humidity inside premises need to be just about warm, and it is necessary to ensure that homes are free from mold/bacteria. The most common and popular treatment is gargling with warm salt water. This offers substantial relief from sore throat that is one of the possible effects of common cold. Nasal congestion is best dealt with by saline nasal drops that are suitable for use even by children.
Other options include remedies that are considered as alternative options – effective, yet without the full backing of studies. For instance, the use of Vitamin C has evoked both support and dissent. While it has been labelled as good option, it is yet to be supported through evidence in numbers. Similarly, the use of Echinacea and zinc supplements have evoked responses either for or against use of either options. However, all three options are not known to have serious side effects, especially considering that common colds do not last long in most cases.
Options to treat sinusitis
It is now time to take the sinus infection vs cold narrative into treatment options for sinusitis. Among available treatment options, the most common and popular forms of treatment include the following.
#1 Use of antibiotics – Antibiotics are popularly used for treating sinusitis and are often lengthy courses. This is because the medication takes time to start showing results and this impacts the time required for experiencing relief from the condition. Sinuses are located deeper and as a consequence the medication takes longer to reach and be effective. Depending on the antibiotic prescribed, this could take as much as three weeks. Antibiotics are typically prescribed only when the symptoms are strong and last longer.
#2 Use of antihistamines – Antihistamines are another popular method of handling sinusitis. Allergens are responsible for inflammation of the sinuses and this swelling results in aggravating conditions. Antihistamines are known to be effective in managing the allergies, which in turn helps to treat the condition.
#3 Combination of antihistamines and decongestants – Combination medications of nasal decongestants and antihistamines are also effective in treating the condition, but are advised to be used only when prescribed by a physician, despite the availability of OTC drugs. This is mainly because the medication contains agents that are known to make the mucus thicker.
#4 Use of nasal decongestants in spray form – Nasal decongestants are typically used for short periods. The spray helps to tackle the inflammation in nasal passages which helps to quickly expel the mucus from the sinuses. However, as mentioned above, topical sprays are generally only used for shorter periods, not more than four days, as this can have an undesirable effect on nasal passages if used for a longer time.
#5 Used of corticosteroids – These are potent corticosteroids that help control inflammation in nasal passages and sinuses. The advantage of nasal corticosteroids over spray nasal decongestants is the fact that individuals will not develop dependency on the medication for relief during sinus infections.
The final option available for individuals is to opt for surgical procedures. These are typically the last option, when every other treatment method fails. The purpose of the surgical procedure is to fix the defects that are responsible for the condition. This includes the anatomical defects in the bone that separates the passageways, and the clearing of blocked passages.
Precautions necessary for preventing either common cold or sinusitis
As the sinus infection vs cold differences have been clearly listed out, it is time to look at preventive measures that are necessary to avoid getting common cold or sinus infections. Simple precautionary methods include the need to wash hands frequently, and to lead a healthy lifestyle – balanced diet, quitting smoking and clean atmosphere in residential/commercial spaces.
While there are clear differences between sinus infection vs cold, smoking has a strong impact on both conditions. Inhaled smoke has adverse effects on the upper respiratory tract and has an impact on the amount of mucus produced. Consequently, the amount of nasal discharge increases, in addition to aggravated allergies and colds. All of these conditions are responsible for both cold and sinus. For instance, more mucus production aggravates sinus infections, while allergies can result in more bouts of cold/cough.
Another important aspect worth mentioning while rounding up the sinus infection vs cold differences, is the need to avoid abuse of antibiotics. In the event that lengthy dosages of antibiotics are required as part of treatment options, it is advisable to use probiotics to ensure that the biome balance of sinuses are maintained. However, this needs to be under consultation with the treating physician/specialist.