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Cold? Allergy? Sinusitis?

| Wellness | Healthy You

When your nose is running, how can you tell the difference?

Have you ever had a cold you felt would never go away? You may have been experiencing more than just a cold. There is a good chance you have sinusitis, a condition where infection or inflammation affects the sinuses. 

This common condition occurs when viruses or bacteria infect the sinuses. Your body’s reaction to the infection is to cause the sinus lining to swell, which blocks keeps the mucus from draining properly. Bacterial or viral infections, allergies, asthma, and other health problems can cause sinusitis. (Check out the "what color is your snot" infographic.)


  • Up to four weeks of cloudy or colored drainage from the nose
  • Congested nose
  • Pain or pressure in the face, in the head, or around the eyes
  • Pain in upper teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Types of sinusitis

The length of the symptoms determines the type of sinusitis you have.

Acute sinusitis. The symptoms for this type last less than four weeks, but if they occur frequently throughout the year, you may have recurrent acute sinusitis. This is usually caused by viruses or bacteria.

Chronic sinusitis. When you have frequent sinusitis or the infection lasts three months or more, it could be chronic sinusitis. Symptoms of chronic sinusitis may be less severe than those of acute; however, untreated chronic sinusitis can cause damage to the sinuses and cheekbones that sometimes requires surgery to repair.


The most important step is to talk to your doctor. Here are some treatments that may be used:

  • Decongestants or nasal sprays to reduce swelling
  • Fluids and rest
  • Nasal saline rinse
  • Antibiotics if it is a bacterial infection

A referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist or an allergist may be recommended if you have frequent infections. The specialist can evaluate you further to determine other treatment options or if surgery is needed. Find a doctor near you.