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Is it a sinus infection?

If you woke up this morning with a stuffy-nose, facial pain and congestion, you may be suffering from sinusitis.

Sinusitis, or a sinus infection, occurs when the tissue lining the sinuses becomes swollen or inflamed. This can be caused by a bacterial infection, allergies, or pollutants in the air.

How is a sinus infection different from a cold?

“People generally think of the terms cold and sinus infection as being synonymous, but they really aren’t,” says Latif Dharamsi, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat physician) at Piedmont.

Colds are caused by a virus, and the symptoms of a viral infection are typically a low-grade fever, fatigue, and nasal congestion accompanied by clear mucus.

In comparison, a sinus infection caused by a bacterial infection would have symptoms that are more severe.

"With a bacterial sinus infection, a person's symptoms including facial pain, or pressure over your forehead, or cheeks would be worse.  It could also be accompanied by upper tooth pain," Dr. Dharamsi says. "You would have more congestion, and you could have yellow, or green-colored drainage coming out of your nose, or dripping down the back of your throat."

How do you treat a sinus infection?

If you have a sinus infection, your doctor will generally recommend sinus rinses with a Neti pot, topical nasal steroid sprays and nasal decongestants, which can be taken for three days.

“If symptoms persist for greater than 10 to 14 days, we can begin to prescribe antibiotics,” Dr. Dharamsi says.

People who suffer from recurrent sinus infections, or have sinus infections that last longer than three months, may need nasal surgery.

“The minimally invasive procedures introduce balloons into the natural sinus openings and inflate them to make those openings larger,” Dr. Dharamsi says.  “This procedure can be conducted in the office with a little bit of a sedative and some local anesthesia.”

A more invasive procedure called a functional endoscopic sinus surgery must be performed in the operating room.

"During this procedure, the surgeon makes the openings of all sinuses larger by removing bone and tissue," Dr. Dharamsi says.

Tips to prevent a sinus infection

You can’t completely prevent a sinus infection, but there are things you can do to reduce your risk of exposure to germs and bacteria that could lead to one.

  • Don’t smoke. Cigarette smoke can irritate the sinuses. Put down the ciggy. If you aren’t a smoker, try to avoid those that smoke.
  • Use a humidifier. Humidifiers keep the air nice and moist, preventing dry air that can lead to sinus pain.
  • Wash your hands. Always wash your hands before you eat, after using the restroom, or after touching common surfaces, like a doorknob, elevator buttons or coffee dispenser.
  • Keep windows closed. Allergens can come through an open window and linger on sheets and surfaces.

For more helpful, healthful tips, click here

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