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A Cold, Sinus Infection or Something More?

When to Call Your Physician

Have you ever had a cold that just wouldn’t go away? It’s possible you could have sinusitis, or an infection of the sinuses. When these symptoms linger for more than 12 weeks, however, this chronic inflammation be a sign of a more serious issue.

What Is Sinusitis?

There are two types of sinusitis: acute and chronic. When you have acute sinusitis, which is caused by viruses or bacteria, you may have cloudy drainage, generally green or yellow in color, from your nose for up to four weeks.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy or congested nose
  • Pressure or pain near your eyes
  • Difficulty breathing, including during sleep

You can find relief from proper rest and medication. Other self-care tactics can include:

  • Taking a warm shower
  • Staying hydrated with warm fluids
  • Using a humidifier (if the air is dry)

If symptoms continue for more than 10 days, you may have a bacterial infection that requires a physician visit and antibiotics.

More Than a Sinus Infection

Chronic sinusitis, on the other hand, is a common condition that causes nasal discharge, facial pain, loss of smell and nasal obstruction, which can make it difficult to breathe. It’s considered to be chronic if symptoms linger for more than 12 weeks.

Northwestern Medicine Otolaryngologist Patrick E. Simon, MD, says, “Sinusitis and chronic sinusitis each have their own constellation of symptoms, but are primarily differentiated by the duration of symptoms.”

Chronic inflammation of the sinus can present in two different forms, either with nasal polyps or without nasal polyps. Nasal polyps are non-cancerous growths that line nasal passages. They can develop after prolonged inflammation but require a genetic disposition as well as environmental factors, says Dr. Simon.

Risk factors include asthma, hay fever and other respiratory allergies, aspirin allergy and chronic rhinitis. Your physician may use a nasal endoscopy or CT imaging to determine the presence of polyps.

Treatment Options

“We first seek to improve symptom relief and, ultimately, quality of life with medical therapy. If that proves insufficient there are many different procedural interventions that can be tailored to the individual situation,” says Dr. Simon.

Treatment options for chronic sinusitis and nasal polyps range from medication to nonsurgical procedures to surgery. Learn more about possible treatment approaches.

Northwestern Medicine Otolaryngology

Patrick E. Simon, MD
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