Summertime Sickness: Sinus Infection vs. the Common Cold

As the tree and grass pollen season is winding down in the Washington DC area, “summer colds” are playing a bigger role in symptoms that include stuffy nose, runny nose, eye irritation, sore throat, and cough in many people.

Also read: Sinus Infection vs. Cold: Symptoms & Treatment Options

The common cold is caused by a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract passages.  Different strains of viruses are responsible for these infections in different seasons.   Whereas rhinoviruses cause most of the colds in the winter, enteroviruses are more prevalent in summer.

The symptoms usually begin as sneezing spells followed by nasal congestion, runny nose, and a redness and burning sensation of the eyes.  More serious eye problems, may be better handled by a Washington DC ophthalmologist. They are usually followed by a sore throat, occasional dry cough, and fatigue.  Many individuals also experience headaches and a mild fever. The illness may last for 5 to 7 days and usually resolves by itself.

Though, no medication is needed to eradicate the infection, the symptoms can be relieved and the person can be made to feel more comfortable by taking some of the following steps:

  1. Irrigating the nasal cavity with a saline spray and over-the-counter (OTC) oral decongestants to unclog the nostrils and help breathe easier.  (Note that  individuals with high blood pressure, heart problems, prostate conditions, and other various diseases should not use decongestants)
  2. Though the OTC nasal decongestant sprays can give quicker relief, if they are used more than 3 days continuously, they can cause “rebound” congestion when their effect wears off.   This can lead to a habituation and dependency and is called “rhinitis medicamentosa.”   Therefore, never use an OTC nasal decongestant such as Afrin (oxymetazoline) or Neosynephrine (phenylephrine) more than 3 days.
  3. OTC pain medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen to relieve headache, achiness, and/or fever.
  4. Gargling with warm salt water and using throat lozenges to soothe the throat irritation.
  5. Get rest and drink plenty of oral fluids while the immune system is fighting the virus.

However, in some instances the upper respiratory infections can also progress to involve the linings inside the sinuses.  (Sinuses are air-filled cavities within the facial bones and are present behind the forehead, around the eyes, and behind the cheek bones).  This complication can not only prolong the duration of the illness, but can also result in additional symptoms such as fever, facial pain/tenderness, persistent thick and discolored nasal secretions, post-nasal drip, and/or frequent productive coughing, which are symptoms consistent with a sinus infection.  People with a history of asthma may also experience aggravation of their breathing problems and the more frequent need for their rescue medications.

If the symptoms are persisting in spite of the OTC medications and comfort measures (especially if the symptoms last more than 1 week), it is time to consult your Manassas, VA sinus problem doctor for evaluation and treatment. Black & Kletz Allergy’s Washington, DC specialists will help you beat your summer allergies for good.