Allergy, Cold or Sinusitis?

As colder weather returns to our region, many people begin to experience colds, sore throats, allergies, and sinus issues. Often, symptoms are relieved by over-the-counter medications, drinking fluids, good nutrition, and rest. Even chicken soup can help people feel better. However, for those with recurring and chronic sinus infections, this time of the year often makes them feel even worse.

Sinusitis, Allergies, or a Cold?

According to Dr. Lauren Anderson, a board-certified Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, most sinus infections are viral and will go away in a week or so. However, for bacterial infections antibiotics are sometimes needed to treat serious sinus infections, but most will go away on their own within 7 to 10 days. Anyone who is sick more than 10 days or runs a fever more than 4 days or has a high fever, needs to see a doctor.

Both viral and bacterial infections are contagious, so good handwashing habits are extremely important to prevent the spread of germs. It is also a good idea to use household disinfectants, especially on items you touch or grasp with your hands. And do not smoke, because this negatively impacts your recovery and harms your entire respiratory system.

“Patients often ask me how to tell the difference between a sinus infection and a common cold or allergies,” Dr. Anderson said. “Sinus infections or sinusitis generally includes a stuffy or runny nose, bad breath, sore throat, headache, and pain or a feeling of pressure in the face where the sinuses are located. The sinuses have air pockets, and if germs get into these air pockets, they can rapidly multiply, causing inflammation and illness. Sometimes, sinus infections develop after having a cold, the flu, or a bout with allergies. So, the most common indicator of a possible sinus infection is generally the pressure felt in the face. Not always, but generally.”

When to See an ENT

“Some people experience recurring and chronic sinus conditions, or they become sicker after a few days of feeling better,” Dr. Anderson explained. “Sinus infections can be very serious and can include severe headaches and facial pain, so these people should see an ENT.”

After an examination of the nose, mouth and throat, ENTs can do additional diagnostic work such as throat cultures, bloodwork, and even imaging of the sinuses. They want to determine if allergies are contributing to the sinusitis pattern or if there are structural issues in the nose and sinuses that are making the sinus infections recur. From there, they develop a treatment plan.

“In some cases, allergy medications or allergy shots are needed to help with allergies and sinus infections. At NRMC ENT Associates, we do all our testing and vial mixing in our clinic,” Dr. Anderson explained. “In other cases, we may need to do surgery to remove the adenoids, or sinuplasty to improve the sinus openings. My goal is to get my patients well and stop the recurring cycle of chronic sinusitis.”

Board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology, Dr. Anderson sees children and adults. Her office is in the Multispecialty Clinic adjacent to the hospital. She performs inpatient and outpatient surgeries at NRMC’s state-of-the-art surgery suites and sees patients in the NRMC Emergency Department. For more information or an appointment, please call 318.214.5770.


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