anna gutermuth

anna gutermuth

How can you tell whether you have the “common cold” or a full on sinus infection?

I have asked a number of my patients coming in requesting treatment for sinus infection this same question. The response I get back all (almost all) the time is “I have been blowing out green mucus“.

The thinking here is that clear to yellow mucus means it’s a cold while green or brown mucus means it’s a sinus infection and antibiotics would be then be needed to treat it.

May I bust that myth here and now;

The color of your mucus has little to do with if you have a sinus infection or the “common cold”.

Here is why:

The natural progression of a cold or congestion is thickening of the mucus.  You start out with a clear nose drip and over the course of a few days that nasal discharge thickens up as mucus or snot due to sloughing off of the inner lining of the upper airway area.

Thick mucus will always present as greenish-yellow glob.

So how then can you tell if you “really” have a sinus infection?

1. Time

If you congestion is lasting a week or more, sinus infection is more likely. Viral infections like the common cold typically peak by day 2 or 3 of the illness.

Bacterial sinus infections has the same intensity or may even worsen as the days go by.

2. Pressure (or pain) over your forehead, cheek bones or upper teeth

The sinuses (frontal, ethmoidal and maxillary) reside in these parts of the face and if they are inflamed or infected, you will feel pressure over the surrounding areas around your nose. Sinus pressure and infection would often cause headaches too.

Here is the bottom line;

If all you have is some green mucus for a few days and nothing else, it is very unlikely that you have a sinus infection requiring treatment with antibiotics.

Spare yourself the aggravation of making a doctor’s appointment and the sometimes hefty co-payments and occasional unwelcoming “waiting rooms”.

You will do just fine with home remedies.

About the author

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Dr. Bola

Family physician. Works for the "man" by day, wife & mom 24/7.
Loves the work of translating "medicalese" to plain english.


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