NORTHWEST INDIANA | Sneezing? Coughing? Experiencing headaches and sinus pressure? It can be difficult to determine if these symptoms are caused by the flu, a cold, COVID-19 or a sinus infection.
A sinus infection, or sinusitis, often is mistaken for other conditions.
Many sinusitis patients experience worse symptoms in the fall and winter than during the spring and summer. Ragweed pollen and mold are both prevalent during the cooler months.
Sinus infections happen when fluid builds up in sinuses. This fluid buildup allows germs to multiply. Viruses cause most sinus infections, but bacteria can cause some.
According to Community Care Network otolaryngologist Joshua Park, MD, autumn ushers in an increase in the frequency and severity of sinus infections and sinus headaches.
“This time of year can cause a spike in sinus infections, especially for those who suffer from seasonal allergies,” said Park, who is on staff at St. Mary Medical Center and Community Hospital. “Sinus infections often are misidentified as the common cold, so some people could be taking the wrong over-the-counter medications.”
As an ear, nose and throat specialist, Park said there are several factors that can increase your chances of getting sinusitis, including having a previous cold or weakened immune system, seasonal allergies and/or smoking.
“It’s always a good idea to see a doctor if your symptoms become severe, especially if you have pain or swelling around your eyes, confusion, stiff neck, high fever or any vision changes,” he said.
He recommends using saline nasal spray, nasal corticosteroids and decongestants to help alleviate symptoms.
Antibiotics usually are not needed to treat acute sinusitis because it is likely caused by a virus and not by bacteria, he said. Your doctor might wait and watch to see if your condition worsens before prescribing antibiotics.
Park says there are several things people can do to help prevent sinus infections:
- Wash your hands.
- Receive recommended vaccines, such as the flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine.
- Avoid close contact with people who have colds or other upper respiratory infections.
- Do not smoke and avoid secondhand smoke.
- Use a clean humidifier to moisten the air at home.
Dr. Park is welcoming new patients at his office at the Valparaiso Health Center of St. Mary Medical Center, 3800 St. Mary Drive, Suite 303, in Valparaiso. To make an appointment, call 219-945-4409. He also has an office at 1500 S. Lake Park Ave., SP401, in Hobart. Visit COMHS.org to learn more.