How are sinusitis and a cold different?

poster zWhen your child gets sick, you definitely want to ensure they feel better as soon as possible. However, before you immediately head for the cold medicine aisle, it’s important that you know that there is a difference between sinusitis and a common cold. Especially since the two can exhibit such similar symptoms. While you should consult a doctor when your child is sick, knowing more about these types of conditions will help you better understand what is going on with your child when he or she is under the weather.

What is sinusitis?

Sinusitis means that the nose and sinuses are inflamed, which prevents normal mucus drainage. There are actually several different forms of sinusitis. Most commonly sinusitis is due to a bacterial or viral cause. The viral form can actually come along with a common cold. In fact, bacterial sinusitis may be referred to as a secondary infection when it is caused by something else. In other words, the child may have been sick with something else, and this allowed bacteria infection to develop in the sinuses. Sinusitis can also be driven by allergy. Further, allergic fungal rhinosinusitis is triggered by an allergy to fungi and often occurs together with nasal polyps.

The symptoms of sinusitis may include thick nasal discharges that are discoloured and yellow or green, a stuffy or plugged-up nose and pain or pressure in the face, around the eyes or in the forehead.

Technically, the condition is called rhinosinusitis, which means inflammation of the nose and sinuses.

Chronic sinusitis

Chronic sinusitis persists for three months or longer. This may start as a sinus infection and look similar to acute sinusitis, but tends to be a simmering problem. Along with the usual symptoms outlined above, chronic sinusitis may also cause a loss in sense of smell. To diagnose the chronic sinusitis, your doctor must confirm the presence of inflammation. This usually means taking a CT scan or performing a nasal endoscopy to look for signs of inflammation, which can include nasal polyps or coloured mucus draining out of the sinuses.

Nasal polyps

Nasal polyps are common, non-cancerous  growths that develop in the nose or sinuses. Polyps usually start around the area where the sinuses open into the nasal cavity. Mature nasal polyps may look like grapes.

Nasal polyps are associated with allergies or asthma. They can block the normal drainage from the sinuses and when too much mucus accumulates in the sinuses, it can become infected. This can account for the thick, discoloured drainage from the nose and throat that affects many people with chronic sinusitis and nasal polyps.

Nasal polyps shouldn’t be confused with the polyps that form in the colon or bladder. Unlike these types of polyps, nasal polyps are rarely malignant. Usually, they’re thought to result from allergy and chronic sinus inflammation.

Classification of sinusitis

Generally sinusitis is labelled into three subtypes that may have different causes:

  • Chronic rhinosinusitis without nasal polyps, which occurs in around 60% of people.
  • Chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps, which occurs in around 20-30% of people. This type is more likely to be associated with asthma and aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease.
  • Allergic fungal rhinosinusitis, which occurs in around 10-20% of people

Symptoms of sinusitis may include

  • Symptoms similar to a cold, including runny nose and cough lasting more than 10 days
  • Fever that may last three to four days
  • Often comes along with a severe headache, which feels like pressure around the eyes and forehead
  • Potential for bad breath

There are also some uncommon symptoms, such as pain in the back of the neck, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. In these cases a complication may be present. In this situation it is important that your child see a doctor as soon as possible.

What is a common cold?

The cold is a virus that is very contagious. It can actually become worse if the child develops a sinus infection in addition to the virus. While you will see that the symptoms of the cold are very similar to sinusitis, there are some key differences.

The symptoms of the common cold include:

  • It usually lasts between five and ten days.
  • Nasal discharge with a common cold usually starts out with clear liquid – if this turns yellow or even green, that is a sign of progression to sinusitis.
  • A cough with a common cold tends to get worse at night.
  • Usually, a cold doesn’t come along with a high fever, but if there is fever, it will last only a day or two.

The symptoms of a common cold usually get worse within three or four days of when it first developed.

A case of sinusitis will need to be treated with medications because the infection may only get worse without this. You will need to take your child to a doctor if you believe he or she has a sinus infection. A common cold is usually treated with over the counter medications, especially if there are no complications that go along with it.

Children are very susceptible to illness. That is because they are in contact with germs on a daily basis. So, as a parent, you have to be prepared to help your child get through various sicknesses. Common colds are named that way for a reason. They happen all the time, but their symptoms could be confused with a more serious sinusitis infection. If your child develops sinusitis, then he or she will need antibiotics in order to overcome the infection. By knowing the difference in the symptoms, you will better have an idea of what is going on with your child so that you can pursue the right treatments and medication.

If you have any questions about sinusitis contact our local doctor, who will arrange for your to see an ear nose and throat specialist.



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