Cold Vs. Flu Vs. Sinus Infection: Which Is It?

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Winter's arrival means that colds are becoming more common, and there's little doubt that flu season is almost upon us. But it can be tough for a lot of people to discern whether their symptoms indicate influenza, the common cold, or even a sinus infection. When you simply feel ill but aren't sure how to know what you might have, you may want to seek out medical treatment at an urgent care clinic. Because urgent care physicians see an average of 4.5 patients every hour, you'll be able to go to a family medical center near you, get a definitive diagnosis, and start treatment in a short amount of time. But before you go, you might want to know a bit more about the hallmarks of each of these health conditions. That way, you'll know what to expect.

Typical cold symptoms include...
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Swollen sinuses, congestion, and mucus buildup
  • Fatigue
  • Fever (more common in children)
Cold symptoms last for around a week, on average. Colds most often start with a sore throat (which usually dissipates after a couple of days), followed by nasal and congestion issues. A cough often comes after, around the fourth or fifth day. Children are more likely to develop a fever with a cold, but adults can develop a slight one. Colds are contagious during the first few days and are less severe than other infections like the flu.

How to treat it: A cold is a virus, so it can't be treated by antibiotics. Over-the-counter medications can help alleviate symptoms, like a headache or congestion. Plenty of rest and fluids will help your body recover. If you don't see symptomatic improvement after a week, you should see your physician to ascertain whether you might need medical treatment (like antibiotics) for a different type of infection.

Typical flu symptoms include...
  • Headache
  • Fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher)
  • Body aches
  • Exhaustion, weakness
  • Chest discomfort or cough
  • Sneezing, sore throat, stuffy nose
While many colds will emerge gradually, the flu usually hits you like a ton of bricks. Soreness and muscles aches are common, as are headaches, high fevers, and general malaise.

How to treat it: Many people feel miserable for more than a week, but catching it early can help. If you think you might have the flu, go to your urgent care center for flu treatment. This can lessen the severity and length of your illness, meaning you won't be as miserable for nearly as long. There are complications that can emerge from failing to adequately seek out medical treatment for the flu, so see a doctor and follow their instructions to make sure you make a swift recovery and don't infect anyone else.

Typical sinus infection symptoms include...
  • Sinus pressure (behind the cheeks and eyes)
  • Runny or stuffy nose for a prolonged period
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Yellow or green mucus/post-nasal drip
  • Fatigue
  • Bad breath
  • Poor sense of smell
If you've never had a sinus infection before, you might assume it's allergies or a cold. But the sinus pressure, mucus, and bad breath could be a good tip-off that it's something else. Some people are prone to chronic sinus infections.

How to treat it: While some sinus infections do go away on their own after a time, you may want to see your doctor for medical treatment that might include a round (or two) of antibiotics. Many experts say that sinus irrigation can help while you're waiting for this medication to help clear up your infection. Decongestants, mucus thinners, and steroids may also provide relief during this time. In rare cases, sinus surgery may be required to drain the affected sinuses.

Staying healthy during wintertime can be a challenge, but when you need help, it's good to know what you're up against. Whether you're dealing with a cold, the flu, or a sinus infection, you can go to an urgent care clinic to seek out viable medical treatment options.