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Adults on average get two to four colds per year, mostly during September through May. In the United States, colds account for more visits to the doctor than any other condition. You could avoid some of these doctor visits by knowing the difference between a sinus infection, allergies, and a cold. First, let’s talk about how they act differently within your body.

You get a cold when a contagious virus gets into your body, and there are hundreds of different types of viruses that can make you sick. You can contract them when someone who’s infected sneezes, coughs, or shakes hands with you. Unlike colds, allergies aren’t contagious. A sinus infection occurs when your nasal passages become infected. There are a number of causes for sinus infections, including viruses, bacteria, structural problems in your nasal cavities, nasal polyps, which are “small balloons” that are caused by long-term nasal/sinus inflammation, or even allergies. And while colds don’t usually cause sinus infections, they do offer a breeding ground for them. Now let’s talk about how to tell the two apart.

The common cold presents with symptoms such as a sore throat, coughing, headache, runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, fatigue, thick yellow or green mucus. On the other hand, sinus infections present with congestion, runny nose, facial pain and clear mucus. While the symptoms may seem similar, the clearest indicator is the color of your mucus. Mucus that has a green or yellow tint is an indicator of a cold and here’s why: When you have a cold, your body’s immune system begins to send an excess of white blood cells to the location of the virus. Despite their name, these cells contain a green-tinted enzyme that can turn your mucus green or yellow in larger quantities. However, your body can produce perfectly clear mucus, even when you have a terrible sinus infection, making your green mucus a good indicator that you have a cold. If you’re experiencing cold-like symptoms, but your mucus is crystal-clear, you should opt for seeing a certified allergist about your pain. An ENT will be able to determine if your discomfort is caused by a sinus infection or stubborn allergies.

The inflammation from recurrent sinus infections is often not from a bacterial infection, like a cold, but rather from blocking the opening that drains the sinuses into the nose. If the openings of the sinuses are blocked, a similar feeling of pressure may occur without a true infection. The first step in treating recurrent sinus infections is identifying the cause of the problem. Once the issue is identified, therapy for persistent sinus problems varies and depends on the cause and may include a combination of medical, allergy, in-office procedure, and/or surgical management.

Dr. Pasha is a certified ENT physician and has become a leading pioneer in minimally invasive techniques for nasal congestion and recurrent sinusitis. Dr. Pasha can help you find a long-term solution for your recurring sinus infections. Quit the antibiotics, schedule an appointment and find a long-term solution with Dr. Pasha today.