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Cold, Flu and Sinus Infection

The mysteries unveiled-and what to do about them

Your head hurts, your nose starts running and your throat is scratchy. Common symptoms of the flu? Or is it a cold? What about a sinus infection? The symptoms of the three can be very similar, and differentiating between them is a mystery to many of us. However, with new medications available, knowing your ailment and what to do about it is key to your late winter survival. Ben Gasirowski, MD, is Medical Director for St. Luke's Urgent Care, where sniffling, coughing and achy patients come everyday looking for reprieve. Dr. Gasirowski provides guidelines below on how to diagnose your symptoms. Keep this primer for reference when the next bug hits-and find the quickest way to recovery.

Common Cold
Symptoms : Main symptoms of the common cold, sometimes called an "upper respiratory tract illness" include: low grade or no fever, nasal congestion, clear nasal discharge (and usually lots of it), sneezing, mild sinus pressure, and a duration of about two to five days. The key ways to differentiate the common cold from another ailment is usually a lack of a high fever combined with clear nasal discharge.

Treatment : Blowing your nose often and finding a product that helps relieve the symptoms is all that can help. He suggests using Tylenol or Advil and an over-the-counter decongestant such as Sudafed. "Many people who are suffering with a cold come to the doctor wanting an antibiotic," says Dr. Gasirowski. "Because a cold is caused by a virus, antibiotics offer no benefit. Only your body's immune system can resolve this viral infection."

Bottom line : Rest, blow your nose and seek out symptomatic relief.

Symptoms : Symptoms of influenza include: a sudden onset of symptoms, a high (101-103 degree) fever, extreme body and muscle aches, headache, nasal congestion, slight cough, sore throat, nausea (occasionally), and a duration of approximately 3-7 days. Although not everyone will have all of these symptoms, the key ones to look for include a high fever, sudden onset of symptoms and body aches.

Treatment : "The good news about influenza is that there are new medications available that can significantly shorten the duration of the flu and lessen its symptoms," says Dr. Gasirowski. "However, these medications are only useful if administered within the first 48 hours of symptom onset." These new medications, Tamiflu and Relenza, are by prescription only.

Bottom line : Pay attention to your symptoms and take action if you think you have the flu. If you have a sudden onset of flu-like symptoms, visit your primary care physician or an Urgent Care Center. If appropriate, the physician will prescribe one of these new medications for the flu that could significantly improve your illness.

Sinus Infection
Symptoms : Symptoms of a sinus infection can include intense pain over the sinuses, fever, nasal discharge (yellow, green or bloody) and duration of longer than 8 to 10 days. Many individuals misinterpret mild sinus pressure of the common cold with a sinus infection. Dr. Gasirowski suggests the following rule of thumb in identifying a sinus infection: If you have at least two out of the four sinus infection symptoms listed above, see your doctor.

Treatment : Antibiotics are the best treatment for bacterial sinus infections. Decongestants help to relieve the symptoms too.

Bottom line : See your doctor! When your primary care physician is not available, visit one of St. Luke's Urgent Care Centers, located on Clarkson Road, in Fenton, Weldon Spring and at WingHaven®. All are staffed by board certified St. Luke's Hospital physicians and registered nurses and are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. No appointment is necessary.