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How do I know the difference between a common cold and a sinus infection?


Ever wonder when to talk to a doc about that nagging stuffy nose of yours?  The average U.S. adult gets 2-3 colds per year, and nearly 30 million individuals are diagnosed with a sinus infection annually. As a result, most people are unsure of when the sniffles might be something more concerning like a sinus infection. The good news is there are classic symptoms that define each condition. Most sinus infections result from an initial virus, so knowing the difference is important.  Here are two big questions and answers that help in figuring out what is going on:

How long has it been?

Typically, most colds or viral “upper respiratory infections” run their course within a week. The vast majority of these colds slowly get better. If you find your symptoms have plateaued or worsened after a week then you may need evaluation. Also, studies have shown that people who initially improve after a few days but then worsen again are at a higher risk of having an infection that may need antibiotics.

What are your symptoms?

Nasal drainage that is discolored, including yellow, green, or otherwise thick is known as “purulent.” When this type of nasal drainage has been going on for more than a week, it is a sign of a bacterial sinus infection.

There are other important symptoms. Recent guidelines by the American Academy of Otolaryngology (Ear Nose Throat doctors) note that the symptoms most associated with a bacterial sinus infection include “purulent” nasal drainage, nasal congestion, and facial pressure or fullness. A combination of these are a signal you may be dealing with a bacterial problem.

Still unsure?

At SmartDocMD we have you covered. We spent the last couple years combining expert medical society guidelines into a triage system to help you figure out exactly what is going on. Our free triage system uses Artificial Intelligence or “AI,” and continues to learn from current health care research.  We call it SmartDocAI.  It uses up-to-date medical information to tell you what might be going on, including alerting you to more serious conditions. All you have to do is tell SmartDocAI your symptoms through a free online interview. SmartDocAI will gather your symptoms and then provide a personalized health screening specific to you and your problem. If SmartDocAI determines you might need a doctor, it will give you the option to have one of our U.S. board-certified doctors review your symptoms and provide a formal diagnosis and treatment plan, including prescriptions as needed.  Click here to check your symptoms to see if you have a sinus infection and get medical help for less than a co-pay.

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