Nearly everyone has made the trip down the cough and cold aisle at the supermarket and found an arsenal of sinus symptom relief. Dealing with sinus symptoms can be confusing, since they mimic those of a nasty cold. Knowing how to differentiate a sinus infection from a common cold will enable you to treat it more effectively.

Sinusitis Symptoms & Causes

Sinusitis is a sinus infection that causes cold-like symptoms such as cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, loss of smell, headache and fever. These occur in response to an inflammation of the mucus lining in the sinuses, and can be the result of a bacterial, viral or fungal infection. In many cases, home remedies are the best option because a virus must run its course. However, there are times when a trip to the doctor’s office is prudent. If your symptoms do not improve (or if they worsen) within a few days, you have a history of chronic sinusitis or are running a high fever, seek medical attention.

Sinusitis Diagnosis & Treatment

When you see your doctor he or she may perform a physical exam, nasal endoscopy, CT or MRI scan. The doctor might also take a sinus culture or perform allergy skin tests. Depending on the root cause of your symptoms, your doctor might offer nasal spray, over-the-counter painkillers or, if bacteria is the culprit, antibiotics. If your sinusitis was brought on by allergies, immunotherapy shots or drops may be an option.

Sinusitis Prevention

Preventing sinusitis from occurring in the first place is the most effective way to avoid the misery of the symptoms. Because sinusitis can be triggered by the common cold, do your best to wash your hands, blow your nose properly and sneeze into your shoulder rather than your hands. Avoiding cigarette smoke and polluted air also helps keep your sinuses clean and free of infection. Using a humidifier is another good idea.

Stuffy Nose

Nasal congestion or stuffy nose is a very common condition that occurs year-round. Contrary to popular belief, a stuffed up-nose isn’t caused by mucus but rather inflamed nasal tissue lining. It may be caused by sinusitis or allergies and often responds to home remedies such as over-the-counter medications (e.g., pseudoephedrine or nasal sprays). If your stuffy nose lasts longer than a couple of weeks or is accompanied by blurred vision, swelling of the forehead or coughing fits that persist for 10 days or more, contact your doctor.

To find the cause of your stuffy nose, you may be given an allergy skin or blood test or a chest x-ray. Depending on the findings and the success of your home regimen, you may be prescribed oral decongestants or immunotherapy. As with sinusitis, preventing nasal congestion is your best bet, though doing so can be difficult. Be sure to wash your hands frequently, avoid germs, use a humidifier and avoid putting too much pressure on your nose.