Your stuffy nose handed you a knock-out punch. But when should you see
Dr. Kevin Wilson, an Ear, Nose & Throat Specialist helps us sort out the
Winter is here. What are the symptoms of a cold versus a sinus
infection? When should I see a doctor?
· The common cold is an upper respiratory infection, is usually caused by a
virus that infects the nose and throat.
· Common cold symptoms include nasal congestion; runny nose; post-
nasal drip; headache; and fatigue. Cough and mild fever may also accompany
· Cold symptoms usually build, peak, and slowly disappear. No treatment
is necessary for a cold, but some medications can ease symptoms. For
example, decongestants may decrease drainage and open the nasal
passages. Pain relievers may help with fever and headache. Cough
medication may help as well. Colds will typically last from a few days to
about a week or longer.
· After a cold, you are at greater risk of developing a sinus infection
because a cold causes inflammation and swelling of the sinuses.
· In some instances, a cold may cause swelling in the sinuses, preventing
the outflow of mucus. This can lead to a sinus infection. If you have sinus
pain — pain around the face and eyes — and thick yellow or green mucus
that persist after a week, then you should see your doctor to determine if you
have a sinus infection.
· Symptoms of a sinus infection include the following:
o Thick, yellow, foul-smelling nasal discharge
o Pressure or pain around the face and eyes
o Headache (generally in the forehead area)
o Nasal obstruction
· If you have sinusitis your doctor might recommend that you use:
o Nasal sprays to reduce the swelling. Easing the inflammation might allow
the sinuses to drain normally. Always ask your doctor before using nasal
spray decongestants – they can sometimes make the problem worse!
o Decongestant or antihistamine medicines.
o Painkillers — if necessary — to reduce discomfort.
· Antibiotics may be used if symptoms persist for more than a week.
Decongestants and other drugs help decrease the swelling in your sinuses
and nasal passages.
· Steam and hot showers may be recommended to loosen mucus. Your
doctor may also recommend nasal saline to wash mucus from your nose.
· In rare instances, when sinusitis becomes chronic, recurrent, or long
lasting, long-term antibiotics or surgery may be needed to establish
When would you recommend surgery?
· We’re conservative about recommending surgery, but for those patients
o Have been on multiple different antibiotics
o Have chronic or recurrent sinus infections
o Regular antihistamine use, allergy shots, etc.
· Sinus surgery is specific to each patient, and at UofU ENT we evaluate
each case to determine the best option.
What can I do to prevent infections?
· Obviously, smoking is never good for you, but if you do smoke, you
should refrain when you’re sick or under treatment for sinus problems.
· Wash your hands often.
· Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
Kevin Wilson, MD
Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose, & Throat Specialist)
Seeing patients beginning January, 2012 at the new University of Utah South
Jordan Health Center