Chronic Sinusitis or a Cold? How to Tell

Sinusitis or a Cold? How to Tell | Boca Raton, FL

Your nose feels stuffy and you have a slight headache. Thinking you have a cold, you take the day off from work to rest up and get better. Then, 10 days later, your nose is still congested.

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The common cold and allergy attacks aren't the only things that can make you feel congested, make it difficult to breathe or make you feel generally miserable. If you have nasal and breathing troubles, you might have sinusitis, an infection of the sinuses. While sinusitis can clear up with a course of antibiotics, more severe cases often require surgery for a full improvement.

Understanding Sinusitis

Sinusitis occurs when the sinus cavities, located behind your nose, cheeks and forehead, become inflamed. The inflammation can occur as a result of a viral, bacterial or fungal infection. It can also occur if you have nasal polyps or growths that block the sinuses or a deviated septum.

One common cause of sinusitis is the common cold, but the condition itself shouldn't be confused with a cold. Typically, sinusitis lasts a lot longer than a cold. It usually persists for more than 10 days. If you continue to have symptoms for several weeks or more, you have what's known as chronic sinusitis.

Along with being unpleasant and uncomfortable, chronic sinusitis has a number of drawbacks. You might find yourself spending more time at your doctor's office, which costs you money and eats into your productivity.

Sinusitis might start out as the common cold. But at some point during the cold, bacteria gets introduced to the sinuses, leading to an infection that develops into sinusitis. You might recover from the viral infection of the cold but still have respiratory symptoms.


Figuring out whether you have sinusitis or a cold is the first step to figuring out which treatment will be best. When you have a sinus issue, some symptoms are present that don't occur with a cold. One big difference between the two is the presence of facial pain or a headache.

When you have sinusitis, it's likely that you'll also have a headache, facial pain or pain in your teeth. While a cold can cause a headache, it's less likely to cause severe facial pain and unlikely that it will cause pain in your teeth. Often, the headache pain from sinusitis will be concentrated behind your eyes. It might get worse if you lean forward or bend over.

Another way to tell if you have a sinus problem or a cold is whether you are sneezing or not. Sneezing is a very common symptom when you have a cold. It usually doesn't occur with sinusitis.

The quality of your nasal discharge or mucus might be slightly different when you have a cold than when you have sinusitis. During a cold, the mucus might start out thin and clear, become thicker and more yellow in color, then thin out again. If you have sinusitis, the mucus is usually thick and can be white, yellow or green in color. It might drain out of your nose or down the back of your throat.

Sinusitis can also make your breath smell unpleasant, due to the bacteria. Bad breath is usually not a symptom of a cold, unless you forget to brush your teeth.

Treatment Options

The good news is that sinusitis can be treated. Your doctor will typically start with a conservative treatment method, then progress to more intense options if your condition doesn't respond. The treatment also depends on the cause of your sinusitis. For example, if the condition is caused by bacteria, antibiotics can help clear it up. If your sinusitis is due to a deviated septum or a growth, surgery might be the most effective way to treat it.

Surgical treatments include computer-assisted endoscopic sinus surgery and balloon sinuplasty. The goal of both procedures is to open up the sinuses so that you can breathe easier. Opening the sinuses also allows mucus to drain better. The surgery can also improve your sense of smell and taste.

During endoscopic sinus surgery, the surgeon threads a small camera into the nose, which lets him see inside the sinus cavities without making any incisions on the face. Using the camera as a guide, he's able to open up the sinuses.

If a patient opts for balloon sinusplasty, the surgeon threads a small balloon catheter into the nasal passage and sinuses. Once in the sinus, the balloon is inflated, which expands the sinus cavity, reducing or eliminating any blockage. The cavity is then rinsed with saline to remove any debris from it. When the catheter is taken out, the sinus remains open, reducing your symptoms.

Sinus surgery can help you breathe easier and enjoy a better quality of life. To learn more about endoscopic sinus surgery or balloon sinusplasty, contact Dr. Nathan Nachlas, a facial plastic surgeon who specializes in rhinoplasty and sinus surgery in South Florida.

For more information or to request a consult with Dr. Nachlas contact Sandy Friedman, Director of Patient Relations at 561-939-0909.

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Tagged balloon sinuplasty, chronic sinusitis