Everyone has at one time or another experienced a common cold manifested by such symptoms as nasal and sinus congestion, runny nose, mild sore throat and cough. This common infection may last from a few days to one to two weeks. It is always caused by a virus and therefore patience, and not antibiotics, is the main treatment.
Bronchitis can be thought of as any cough that is not caused by pneumonia or asthma. The main symptom of bronchitis is a cough without a fever. People with bronchitis usually just have a cough and do not feel particularly sick and are able to continue their normal daily activities. One can expect coughing from bronchitis to last from one to three weeks. Again, this is a virus infection and antibiotics are usually not necessary. If a cough does last more than several weeks, or is associated with fever, it would be wise to visit your doctor.
Sinusitis is an infection of the sinuses which are air filled pockets around the nose in the skull. This infection is usually preceded by a common cold. It too is usually caused by a virus, but after lingering for one to two weeks may turn into a bacterial infection. One of the key factors in determining the proper treatment for a sinus infection is the length of the symptoms. If you have had a cold for one to two weeks and are experiencing pain or pressure in the sinuses along with yellow or green nasal mucus and perhaps a fever, then antibiotics may be helpful.
A sore throat is often a symptom of a cold, but can sometimes be a bacterial strep throat infection. A good rule of thumb is that if a sore throat is associated with a bad head cold, and especially with a cough, it is usually caused by a virus and needs no prescribed treatment. If however, one has a sore throat without cold symptoms or cough but does have a fever and a past history of prior strep infections, then the most likely culprit is the strep germ which needs to be treated with antibiotics. Strep is much more common in children than in adults.
Over the counter medications for adults can be helpful in alleviating the miserable symptoms of respiratory infections. The following are the basic ingredients of all the myriad combinations of cold and flu drugs found on pharmacy shelves:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) may be used to reduce fever and to alleviate aches and pains.
- Pseudoephridine (Sudafed) is a decongestant to help relieve nasal and ear congestion.
- Guaifenesin (Robitussin or Mucinex) is an expectorant to help loosen mucus. (Dinking lots of liquids may work just as well.)
- Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant which may help ease a persistent cough.
One may purchase a sinus rinsing system called Neil Med which can be found at all pharmacies. This is a natural treatment using a salt based solution to mildly flush out the sinuses helping to clear out the mucus as well as acting as a decongestant. I have found this to be one of the very best treatments for bad colds and sinus infections.
See your doctor if you have a fever for more than 3-4 days or if your fever is 103 degrees or higher. Your doctor will determine whether antibiotics are necessary to treat you. At the very least, your doctor may prescribe medication which will help to alleviate your symptoms and make you feel more comfortable.