Getting a cold can be annoying and disruptive, which is why it’s comforting to know that the average cold is a temporary, short-term illness. But when a cold persists and doesn’t seem to improve with medication and rest, it may be a sign that your lingering cold has actually turned into a more pressing problem — such as a sinus infection.
Here at Allergy & Asthma Clinic of Maryland in Silver Spring, Maryland, Dr. Vasif Kalfa, a board-certified allergist, can help you determine if your cold is actually a sinus infection. Read on to learn how to tell the difference between these two common upper respiratory illnesses.
What is a common cold?
You are likely already familiar with the common cold. Its tell-tale symptoms include a runny or stuffy nose, post-nasal drip and a scratchy throat, fatigue, and possibly headaches. With a bad cold, you might also get a slight fever and a cough. The average cold lasts anywhere from one week to 10 days.
What is a sinus infection?
A sinus infection causes swelling and inflammation in your sinus cavity. Your sinuses are supposed to be filled with air. When they’re swollen and inflamed, they no longer drain properly and become prone to infection.
Symptoms of a sinus infection include nasal congestion, post-nasal drip, headaches, pressure in your face, and a thick yellow discharge (mucus) from your nose.
Common cold vs. sinus infection
Symptoms of a cold and a sinus infection can be similar, but there are several ways to distinguish the two conditions. For starters, if your typical cold symptoms last longer than ten days, it’s more likely to be a sinus infection.
A sinus infection can sometimes cause bad breath. This never occurs with a cold.
Another way to tell the two conditions apart is by looking out for signs of facial pressure and tenderness. These symptoms are not typical with a cold and are more likely to occur when you have a sinus infection.
With both a cold and a sinus infection, you’re likely to drip mucus. But while a cold comes with clear mucus, a sinus infection causes thick, yellow, and possibly foul-smelling mucus.
Can a cold develop into a sinus infection?
It’s possible for a common cold to linger and eventually develop into a sinus infection. For some people, catching a cold may cause their sinuses to swell, preventing the free flow of mucus through the nose.
With time, swollen sinuses brought on by a cold could lead to a sinus infection. If you’ve had a persistent cold and suddenly develop pressure in your eyes and face, it has likely led to the development of a bacterial sinus infection.
Left untreated, a simple sinus infection can lead to worsening complications including chronic sinusitis, meningitis, and vision problems.
If you have a cold that just won’t go away or seems to recur often, don’t dismiss it. Let Dr. Kalfa and our team at Allergy & Asthma Clinic of Maryland help you get to the bottom of it.
We serve patients from in and around Silver Spring, Chevy Chase, and Bethesda, Maryland, as well as the entire Washington D.C. area. Call 240-332-8010 or click online to schedule a visit at our office today.