Cold and flu and sinus infection - oh my!

It's a honey lemon tea day. I'm sick. And a day behind (again) in posting. So let me share my ire. Behold this salacious exposé on trying to figure out whether I have a cold, flu, or a sinus infection.


Colds are caused by a rhinovirus infecting the upper respiratory tract (throat, sinuses, nose). According to WebMD, cold symptoms typically include sore throat, light coughing, headache, stuffy and snotty nose, sneezing, fatigue, and sore sinuses.

You catch a cold from the spittle and goz of infected people. This can happen if they sneeze or cough on you, share drinks with you, kiss you, lick you invasively on the face, or get their nose and mouth fluids on surfaces you then touch before touching your own nose or mouth. The virus sets up shop in the lining of your nose or throat, and if your immune system isn't familiar with how to fight off the invaders, you become the new patient zero among your family and friends.

So for heaven's sake, wash your hands, sneeze and cough into your elbow, and don't expose your infectious self to immunocompromised people.

Antibiotics fight bacteria, not viruses, so there's no point taking them for colds. If you're generally healthy, your body will recover in about 10 days. Don't be surprised if you're still reeling three weeks later, but if it goes for longer, or you feel worse, go see a doctor.

a variant of the human rhinovirus

This is what one type of cold virus looks like - a football! Think about that next time you wallop one at goals. Source: Robin S on Wikimedia Commons.

Flus (influenza)

The flu is caused by the influenza virus. Flu symptoms tend to be more severe than cold symptoms and don't always feature a gluggy nose; they're more along the lines of body aches, extreme fatigue, pain around the eyes, headache, a dry cough, sore throat and fever. It's kind of an all-over badness.

Flu sets in faster than a cold, happening in a matter of hours rather than days, and a healthy person can usually fight it off on their own. For everyone else, however, getting sick can be dangerous. 'Everyone else' being babies and young children, older folks, pregnant women, people already fighting respiratory diseases, and people with weakened immune systems. And 'dangerous' meaning they could go to hospital or die. Yeah, it's a thing. The complications sound gross.

According to the Department of Health, "flu contributes to an average of 13,500 hospitalisations and more than 3,000 deaths among Australians aged over 50 years." So, try not to flu all over old people and already-sick people, OK?

You can help prevent flu by getting a flu shot - no the flu shot doesn't give you the flu that's a myth THE END. But if you've already got it, don't bother with antibiotics - just look after yourself and if you still feel bad after a week, go see a doctor.

H1N1 swine flu virus

Here's what a strain of flu looks like. It's H1N1, swine flu. Source: Cybercobra on Wikimedia Commons.

Sinus infections (sinusitis)

Sinus infections are an inflammation of the sinus tissue caused by bacteria, not a virus, though your cold can become a sinus infection. When you're all goopy up in there, it gives bacteria a warm, wet place to party. This means your hayfever and dust allergies can turn into sinus infections too.

You know what's dumb, though? You can get sinusitis from cold, dry air too. Sounds like you actually need some nose wetness to trap the germs, presumably for flushing out so they don't settle in and make you sick.

WebMD says if your cold goes for longer than 10 days, it's likely to have become a sinus infection. Your symptoms will be super sore and blocked sinuses, a forehead and face-y headache, post-nasal drip (yum!), and thick and stinky phlegm.

Frustratingly enough, despite sinusitis being caused by bacteria, antibiotics don't seem to help much here either. It sounds like looking after yourself is the first treatment to try - warmth, humidity, rest, fluids, you know the drill. I'm seeing mixed reports on decongestants - most people tell me to use them, but one doctor said to avoid them because they dry out the nasal passage. Since taking that doctor's advice, my sinus troubles clear up much faster, so maybe there's something to it.

So, what's up my nose?

Yesterday, I woke up with a rough, raw feeling in my sinuses and throat. The winter air has been cold and dry, and though it's not been a problem til now, I've been feeling rubbish since.

I don't feel like I've been beaten up, so it's probably not the flu. I'm guessing it's a cold or a sinus infection, but one without too runny a nose.

I'm not super snotty, but I am tired and grumpy, and feeling inclined to just watch TV all day, but I know I'll regret spending a day in indolence, so I'm slow cooking a beef stew and doing a bit of writing this afternoon before binging on Netflix.

beef sriracha stout stew, slow cooked

How are you? How do you feel? If you're sick too, whinge at me on Facebook or Twitter. Let's feel sorry for ourselves together.