The Common Cold: Acute Rhinosinusitis and understanding your sinus condition

Dr Nishat Thokan | Specialist Ear, Nose & Throat Surgeon
T: 087 702 8131 | E-mail:

With winter here there is a rise in acute sinus infections that can significantly impact on school and work performance and your general sense of well-being.

So, what is the common cold? We call it Acute rhinosinusitis. It is inflammation of the lining of the nose and the sinuses caused by viral or bacterial infections.

Sinusitis is characterised by two or more of the following symptoms occurring together:

  • nasal blockage or nasal discharge
  • facial pain or pressure over the cheeks or mid forehead or between the eyes
  • reduction or loss of smell
  • wet cough, especially in children, irritating the throat
  • Severe cases may develop fever and muscle aches

Viral rhinosinusitis typically lasts up to 10 days and is managed with supportive medication and home care that will be prescribed by your doctor. In most cases antibiotics are not needed.

 If untreated or symptoms persist for more than 12 weeks the condition is called chronic rhinosinusitis. Chronic rhinosinusitis can be caused by polyps, allergies, chronic bacterial infection or fungal infection. These conditions may require sinus surgery at the discretion of an Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon.

While most sinusitus cases are mild with complete recovery, occasionally bacterial rhinosinusitis may have worsening symptoms severe headache, eye swelling, blurred vision, double vision, neck stiffness, vomiting and confusion. In these instances it is important to contact your General Practitioner or Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon as a matter of urgency as you may need casualty or hospital admission in order to treat the spread of infection.

Patients with seasonal symptoms of blocked and runny nose with sneezing, itchy nose and involvement of other sites such as itchy eyes and skins rashes and asthma exacerbations are likely to have Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) which is different from an acute sinusitis as it is not caused by an infection.

Smoking predisposes one to multiple episodes of recurrent sinusitis.

If you are concerned about your sinus health, please speak to your local GP or ENT specialist.

Common cold symptoms. Picture adapted from EPOS2020 guidelines

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