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When you’re stuck in bed nursing a headache, stuffy nose and perhaps even body aches and fatigue – you might be asking yourself, do I have sinusitis, a cold or flu? The common cold, flu and sinus infections share some similar symptoms and telling them apart can be difficult. To help you tell them apart, we’ve put together a guide on the symptoms. Plus, if you think it is sinusitis, we’ve also included some easy remedies for relief.

Is it a cold, flu or sinus infection?

Telling these common illnesses apart can be difficult as they often share symptoms. For a proper diagnosis it is important to seek medical care from your GP or ENT specialist. Here are the symptoms to look out for and when to seek medical advice.

Cold symptoms:

The least complex of our three conditions, the common cold will typically resolve itself within 7-10 days without medical treatment. You can of course take medications to ease symptoms. Symptoms may include:

  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Headaches
  • Coughing
  • Body aches

If your cold symptoms persist or become worse, you may be experiencing something more significant.

Flu symptoms:

The flu shares many symptoms with a cold however, it is typically more severe and takes longer to recover. If you are experiencing cold symptoms with the addition of; chills, fever, fatigue or muscle and body aches – you may have the flu. There are plenty of over-the-counter medications which can ease symptoms. If your symptoms persist or become worse, seek medical care.

Sinusitis symptoms:

Sinus infections can have many cold or flu-like symptoms, which is why these can be easily confused. Sinus infections – also known as sinusitis – are caused by an inflammation of the sinuses. This inflammation can be from a range of factors such as; bacterial infections, allergies, dental infections, immune issues or even a deviated septum. Cold and flu viruses can cause pain in the sinuses and on occasion can even cause a sinus infection. However, in most cases our sinus symptoms should clear up once your cold or flu symptoms subside. Symptoms to look for of sinusitis may include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Frontal headaches
  • Face tenderness (especially around the eyes or bridge of the nose)
  • Pain in the teeth
  • Earache or pressure in your ears
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Bad breath

An ENT specialist will be able to accurately diagnose and treat sinus issues, so if you’re experiencing more than one of the above or your symptoms have become debilitating, it is recommended you seek medical care. Should you experience any of the following:

  • A severe, ongoing headache
  • A high fever
  • Vision issues (e.g. double vision)
  • Confusion
  • A stiff neck

You should contact your doctor as soon as possible.

Can your diet help with sinus problems?

We’ve long known the connection between our diet and our health, but how does it affect our sinuses? Generally speaking, your diet won’t cause sinus issues – but it may exacerbate them. If you have a sinus infection or pain, you should avoid foods that increase inflammation like processed sugar, fried foods or MSG. There are also some foods which have been shown to improve inflammation and may help with your symptoms. To ease inflammation with food, try:

  • Horseradish, garlic & ginger
  • Fermented foods which feature probiotics (i.e. kombucha, miso, pickles)
  • Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables (i.e. berries, sweet potato, spinach, kiwi)
  • Coconut oil

While your diet is not the cause of your sinus issues, it can be part of a comprehensive, pain-free cure.

What are the signs of a sinus headache?

Headaches are a common ailment – whether they’re related to your cold or flu, stress or not enough sleep. So, how can you tell when it’s a sinus headache? Tell-tale signs of a sinus headache could be – pain in the front of your head, pain or pressure in your cheeks and brow, pain that gets worse when you bend forwards or lie down.

How to get relief from a sinus headache

A sinus headache is a nasty surprise but there are things you can do to find relief. The most common are pain medications which can be picked up from your chemist. There are also a handful of home remedies that may assist with the relief of symptoms. We’ll look at both options below.

The best pain relief for sinus headaches

Both aspirin and ibuprofen are effective at relieving sinus headaches. Aspirin is not recommended for children, though it is fine for adults. As an anti-inflammatory, ibuprofen is likely the best choice for sinus headaches. Pain medications used in conjunction with a nasal spray or decongestant, as well as staying hydrated, should relieve a majority of your symptoms.

Home remedies for sinus pain

Many natural home remedies can help you feel better with a sinus infection however, there is little evidence they can treat the underlying infection. They may also be useful in supporting your immune system which can successfully fight off minor, non-complicated sinus problems – which may indicate why home remedies are so popular. Seeking appropriate medical care is your best option for the effective treatment of a sinus infection.

If you would like to use a natural remedy for your symptoms, some options include:

  • Stay hydrated to keep your sinuses lubricated
  • Try immune-boosting foods like garlic, ginger, and honey
  • Use a humidifier at night to get a better night’s sleep
  • Rub food-grade eucalyptus oil on the roof of your mouth then drink a glass of water
  • Apply a warm, damp cloth to your face to ease pressure

Over-the-counter medications such as nasal sprays, decongestants and pain medications may also be useful in easing symptoms.

Surgical treatment options for a sinus infection

If your sinus infection persists even with medical intervention, your next option may be surgery. Some sinus issues are caused by structural problems within the sinuses which cause chronic sinusitis.

Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery (FESS) is a minimally-invasive procedure which is performed by an ENT specialist. It shouldn’t result in excessive pain, however pain medications may be prescribed to help with discomfort. Read more post-op recovery tips from Dr Edward Smith. Or, learn about Dr Smith’s approach to nasal surgery.

Consult an ENT specialist for the most accurate diagnoses

The best way to diagnose your symptoms is to seek advice from your doctor or ENT specialist. Dr Edward Smith has been a practicing ENT surgeon for well over a decade in the Sutherland Shire. His practices, located in Miranda and Annandale, provide medical care for both adult and children’s ear, nose and throat concerns. To make an appointment, simply call your preferred practice or submit our online form and we’ll be in touch soon.

Miranda: (02) 9525 3500

Annandale: (02) 8570 9600

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