Antibiotic Awareness: Head Cold or Sinusitis



Seattle Mama Doc shares how to tell the difference between bacteria or viral sinusitis, and at home treatments for viral sinusitis or head colds.

Transcript: Sinusitis is caused by a virus or a common cold. That means most sinusitis, also known as a head cold, will get better without antibiotics.

I’m Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson and in partnership with the Washington State Department of Health, I’m here today to talk to you about sinusitis.

The most important information for you to remember is that most head colds or sinusitis do not need treatment with antibiotics. In fact, antibiotics can do more harm by killing off the good bacteria, and it can increase antibiotic resistance.

How do you tell the difference between bacterial sinusitis and viral sinusitis or a head cold?

Both viral and bacterial sinusitis start with symptoms of the common cold, such as low grade fever, nasal discharge, congestion, sneezing, and coughing.

However, bacterial sinusitis is more likely when

• symptoms of congestion, nasal discharge, and sinus pressure last for more than 10 days without improvement
• worsen after having initially improved
• severe from the onset, accompanied by a fever higher than 39 degrees Celsius or 102.2 Fahrenheit, and last for 3 or more days

And that’s when it may require antibiotics.

Viral sinusitis or a head cold may cause severe congestion, colored nasal discharge, and fever, but the fever usually does goes away after a couple of days, and congestion is usually improving by day 10.

Most viral sinusitis or head colds can be treated at home without antibiotics. Home treatments for a head cold include taking it easy for a few days, nasal irrigation with saline or sterile water, drinking warm liquids, and taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed for fever or pain. Even some mild bacterial sinusitis may improve without antibiotics.

Thanks for listening to this information about sinusitis and avoid antibiotics whenever we can. I’m Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson in partnership with Washington State Department of Health.

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