Difference between Cold, Flu, and Sinusitis
Sore throat. Nasal congestion. Sneezing. Coughing bouts. Watery eyes. Low-grade fever. Headache. Swelling around the eyes. Postnasal drip. These are warning signs most commonly associated with colds, flu, and sinusitis and although the symptoms are similar, there are basic differences that tell which ailment you actually have.
What is a cold?
The common cold is a respiratory disease caused by any of the more than 200 viruses that can cause an infection. Among these viruses, the rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, and coronavirus are the leading perpetrators of the common cold. Typically, a cold lasts for about a week or two and as a cold progresses, the nasal mucus thickens.
On average, children experience 6-8 bouts of colds in a year, while adults experience lesser cold episodes. In some cases, colds lead to bronchitis or pneumonia, thus, if cold symptoms last for more than two weeks, you must seek medical attention immediately.
How is a cold different from flu and sinus illness?
The flu, or influenza, is also a respiratory illness that occurs during the colder months and spreads like an epidemic. Unlike the common cold, flu symptoms are more severe and last up to 10 days or more. Symptoms include body and muscle aches, high fever, headache, fatigue, and weakness. Although the flu seldom leads to serious health complications, it can be very dangerous for the elderly, babies, and chronically ill patients.
On the other hand, sinusitis is an infection of the mucous membranes that line the sinuses and the nasal passages. Typically, it is caused by a bacterial or viral infection, although allergic reactions to chemicals, pollen, or other allergens can also lead to swollen sinuses. In some instances, sinusitis is brought about by the common cold, a dental infection, pollution, or other similar factor.
Apart from fever, nasal congestion, and headache, major sinusitis symptoms include facial pain and swelling around the eyes. Unlike colds, sinusitis is sometimes accompanied by low-grade fever as well.
What other factors determine the nature of the disease?
The duration and severity of the infection determine whether what you have is a cold, flu, or a sinusitis attack. Colds symptoms usually last between 7-10 days and the level of body pain you experience is not as severe as when you are experiencing influenza symptoms, which can go on for three to four weeks or more.
Sometimes, the flu virus may no longer be present, but you still feel the lingering symptoms. In contrast, a sinus infection usually lasts for a week and depending on your body’s response to medication and treatment, it could persist for a couple more days.
What measures should you follow to treat your colds, flu, or sinus symptoms?
When treating your illness, avoid remedies that contain a mix of drugs to treat multiple symptoms. Instead, treat each symptom separately. For instance, take a decongestant for stuffy nose, paracetamol for headache, or acetaminophen for facial pain. While colds sufferers often mistake the cold symptoms for sinusitis, taking antibiotics is futile because antibiotics work only for those with sinusitis infections, not when fighting the cold virus.
Therefore, understanding whether your symptoms are related to a cold, the flu, or a sinus infection will help determine the course of treatment for your illness. If symptoms persist even after applying the basic treatment methods, seek medical attention immediately to prevent further health complications.