Cold or sinus problem?

December 17, 2008 4:14:43 PM PST
Twenty-nine-year-old Brianne Langille is coming to the doctor for an allergy check-up. She's better now, but a couple years ago, her allergies made a common cold worse.

"I had a bad cold that lasted all winter long that turned into a bad cough and I realized that there was something really wrong with the situation," she said.

The situation was a sinus infection on top of the cold. Allergies had blocked Brianne's sinuses.

The sinuses are normally air-filled spaces in the skull bones. Openings in the sinuses let mucus drain, but when the sinus lining gets inflamed by a cold or allergies, the swollen lining can block drainage points. Fluid builds up and gets infected by bacteria. The result is sinusitis.

Not treating it can lead to complications.

"The sinuses are cavities close to the brain and eye, so infection can spread to the eye to the brain," Dr. Hale Yarmohammadi said.

Unlike a cold with symptoms such as a clear mucus and a runny nose, sore throat and sneezing, sinus infections can give you thick yellow nasal mucous, pain or pressure around the eyes and forehead, and post nasal drip.

Just as colds are different from sinus infections, the treatment for each is different too.

While simple antihistamine sprays and over the counter pills might work for a cold, stronger cortisone sprays and antibiotics may be needed for sinusitis.

Here's something for both: patients use a simple salt solution mixed in a squirt bottle to irrigate the sinuses and rinse out mucus and germs. It's a healthy cleansing for the nose.

Dr. Yarmohammadi emphasizes that you see your doctor if a cold lasts more than five days. It could be a sinus infection.

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