The link between sinus infections and bronchitis
When a cold strikes, it can make you feel miserable. What’s more, a stuffed up head and nose can quickly progress – leading to other uncomfortable symptoms including facial pain, sinus pressure, post-nasal drip and chest congestion. In fact it’s not uncommon for a cold to develop into a sinus infection or bronchitis.
But what exactly is a sinus infection? Are sinus infections (or sinusitis) and bronchitis linked? Why are some people more prone to developing sinus and bronchial infections? And, most importantly, if you have a sinus infection or bronchitis, what can you do to feel better?
The mucus connection
Mucus often gets a bad rap. But it turns out this slippery secretion plays a critical role in your body’s immune response. When your body is exposed to a cold virus, your immune system goes into high alert – sending signals to cells throughout your nasal cavities and respiratory system to kick up mucus production. The mucus your body produces works to absorb and usher out pathogens that could otherwise make you even sicker. The result? Your head feels like it weighs a thousand pounds, your nose runs like an open faucet and your cough sounds like you’re trying to perfect your best sea lion impression.
While mucus helps rid your body of viruses and other foreign particles, it can also cause problems when it becomes trapped and sits in your sinus cavities and bronchial airways.
Birth of a sinus infection
Most people don’t give much thought to their sinuses. Yet these little air-filled facial chambers have an important job to do. When you breathe through your nose, your sinuses go to work filtering pollutants, allergens and other irritants. If your sinus cavities are swollen and inflamed due to a cold, mucus can become trapped and create a breeding ground for infection.
Think you have a sinus infection?
Sinus infections can be viral or bacterial in nature. If your symptoms aren’t improving after 10 days or are getting worse, your infection could be bacterial. A healthcare provider can prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection.
How do you know if you have a sinus infection and not just a bad head cold? It can be tricky to tell. In general, if you’ve had a cold for more than a week that won’t go away or seems like it’s getting worse, you could be dealing with a sinus infection.
Common sinus infection symptoms
- Sinus swelling and congestion
- Pain and pressure in sinuses
- Headache in forehead region
- Thick nasal discharge
- Post-nasal drip
- Symptoms persist for 10 or more days
When sinusitis or bronchitis strike after a cold
Sinus infections and bronchitis both frequently accompany or follow a viral cold and involve inflammation of tissues and a high production of mucus. And all of that extra mucus has to go somewhere.
In the case of sinusitis, mucus often drains down the back of the throat leading to the dreaded symptom of post-nasal drip which can also make your throat sore and cause a persistent cough.
If you develop bronchitis, mucus collects in swollen bronchial tubes which makes you cough -- a lot.
Symptoms commonly associated with bronchitis
- Cough that lasts 1-3 weeks (may be productive or non-productive)
- Recent cold symptoms such as headache, nasal congestion or sore throat
- Mild shortness of breath or wheezing
At-home remedies for sinusitis and bronchitis
Because the vast majority of sinus infections and bronchitis cases are caused by viral colds, these infections can last several days and make you feel really yucky. Thankfully, there are several things you can do at home for both conditions to reduce the severity of symptoms and help you feel better.
At-home care for sinusitis and bronchitis
- Hydrate – Drink lots of water and/or clear non-caffeinated beverages to thin mucus and keep it flowing freely.
- Rest – Get seven to nine hours of sleep at night and avoid strenuous physical activity during the day.
- Mange with meds – Take an over-the-counter decongestant to ease congestion and an over-the-counter pain med like acetaminophen to cool a fever and manage pain.
- Boost humidity – Use a humidifier and breathe in steam to open nasal passages and respiratory airways.
- Flush things out – Combat post-nasal drip and bronchial congestion by using a neti pot to flush mucus from sinuses.
- Pump up vitamin C – Grab an extra serving or two of citrus fruits or take a vitamin C supplement keep your immune system strong.
When to seek medical treatment for sinusitis and bronchitis
When it comes to getting over a sinus infection or bronchitis, patience and time are usually the best remedies. Because most infections are viral, prescription antibiotics aren’t always an effective treatment option and taking them can be dangerous and lead to problems related to antibiotic resistance. In most cases, infections related to sinusitis and bronchitis will resolve on their own.
Within a week of getting sick, symptoms related to sinusitis or bronchitis should start to improve. If you don’t start feeling better or feel worse, it’s a good idea to reach out to a medical provider who can provide guidance about managing symptoms and also about your treatment options.
If you have bronchitis, you’re likely to develop a stubborn cough that could keep you up at night. If your cough makes it hard to get a good night’s rest, talk to a medical provider about getting a prescription cough medicine.
How to avoid sinus infections and bronchitis
Because most sinus and bronchial infections develop after a cold, it’s important to take the same steps you would to avoid getting any virus.
Sinus infection and bronchitis prevention tips
- Wash your hands frequently
- Avoid touching your face
- Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet
- Exercise daily
- Quit smoking
- Get vaccinated (flu, pneumonia and COVID-19)
If you’re plagued by chronic or recurrent sinus infections or bouts of bronchitis, it’s a good idea to seek medical advice. Your condition could be related to a lingering bacterial infection or allergies. A medical provider can provide the answers and help you need to kick your congestion and cough to the curb.
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