This winter, most of us will experience at least one episode of a sore throat, runny nose and sneezing. These symptoms can be indicators of a sinus infection, the flu or the common cold. Learning how to tell the difference is crucial to get the treatment you need to feel better faster.
Understanding Sinus Infections
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 29 million Americans experience a sinus infection or sinus-related problems each year.
A sinus infection occurs when there is a buildup of fluid within the air-filled pockets of the face, known as the sinuses. Symptoms include:
- Nasal obstruction
- Nasal discharge
- Facial pain and pressure
- Reduced sense of smell
Both viral and bacterial infections can cause these symptoms. Contrary to popular belief, the color of your nasal discharge does not indicate the cause; either can change your nasal discharge to green or yellow.
Treatment for a sinus infection depends on how long the symptoms last. Many professionals recommend the “wait and see” approach. For the first week, you should get extra rest, drink lots of fluids and try over-the-counter medication to relieve sinus pressure.
If you experience symptoms for more than 10 days, seek medical attention. Antibiotics may be prescribed.
Understanding the Common Cold
Most Americans experience two to three colds per year, according to the CDC. Caused by a viral infection, cold symptoms include nasal congestion and a runny nose.
Symptoms typically last for three to seven days. After the first week, most people begin to feel better.
The CDC estimates that influenza has caused between 9 million and 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 and 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths annually since 2010.
Symptoms of the flu are very similar to those of the common cold. The main difference is the symptoms are worse and include a fever of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Extreme fatigue can persist for weeks following the onset of symptoms.
While both are viral, a cold and the flu are caused by different viruses.
The best way to protect yourself from getting the flu is to get an annual vaccination. The shot is safe for anyone older than six months; it is especially important for those who are pregnant to get vaccinated.
Washing your hands often with soap and water is key to staying healthy. If there is no water available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. When in public places, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and wash your hands as soon as you have the opportunity.
If you do get sick, limit your interaction with others to keep from infecting them. Stay home at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever reducing medicine. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. After using a tissue, throw it away and wash your hands as soon as possible.