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Do Colds Cause Bacterial Sinus Infections?

Colds and Bacterial Sinus Infections

A sinus infection with a cold is so common that healthcare providers will combine the two to diagnose someone with acute rhinosinusitis. These infections are caused by a virus; just like the regular common cold, symptoms improve on their own, while treatment is focused on relieving symptoms.
In up to 2 percent of adults and up to 13 percent of children, a person with an upper respiratory infection can get a sinus infection caused by bacteria. This is known as acute bacterial sinusitis.
What are some clues that you should watch out for? Signs or symptoms that a viral sinus infection might have turned into a bacterial sinus infection include:
  • Symptoms have not improved within 10 days. Often, symptoms of an upper respiratory infection may not be completely gone within 10 days; however, a sinus infection may be suspected if the symptoms don't seem to be improving at all.
  • Severe symptoms. Bacteria tend to cause more severe infections than viruses. If the following symptoms are present for three to four consecutive days, this could mean a person has a bacterial sinus infection:
    • High fever (at least 102ºF or 39ºC)
    • Thick, colored nasal discharge
    • Person feels ill.
  • Worsening symptoms or symptoms returning ("double sickening"). In this situation, the person appears to be getting better, but on about day 6 or 7, symptoms get worse again. This can include worsening of the cough, nasal discharge, fever, or feeling sick again.
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