Tips for Common Winter Infections

Dr. DorfmanDr. Dorfman of Rex Ear, Nose & Throat Specialists at Wakefield is board-certified in Otolaryngology. His clinical interests are medical and surgical diseases of the ear, pediatric ENT, allergy, and head and neck, sinus, thyroid, facial plastic and reconstructive surgeries.

It wasn’t long ago that we were all enjoying those last few long summer days with lots of sunshine and warm weather. But, the reality is clear. Winter is here, and this is prime time for colds, influenza (flu), and other respiratory illnesses.

While viruses are active year-round, fall and winter are when we’re all most vulnerable to them. This is due in large part to people spending more time indoors with others when the weather gets cold.

 What can you do to avoid getting sick?

  •  Wash your hands often. Teach children to do the same. Both colds and flu can be passed through coughing, sneezing, and contaminated surfaces, including the hands.
  • Alcohol-based hand rubs may be used if soap and water are not available. They are not as effective if the hands are dirty.
  • Try to limit exposure to infected people. This is particularly important for premature infants, children with significant asthma, and those that are immunosuppressed.
  • Practice healthy habits:
    • Eat a balanced diet.
    • Get enough sleep.
    • It can help the immune system better fight off the germs that cause illness.
    • Do your best to keep stress in check.

It can be hard to differentiate between a common cold and a sinus infection (sinusitis).

How can you tell if you have a sinus infection instead of a cold?


  • Common colds are viral infections that usually last for 5 to 10 days.
  • Symptoms are most severe between days 3 or 5, and then improve and disappear.
  • Nasal discharge usually starts clear and watery, and after a day or two, the nasal discharge may become thicker with white, yellow, or green color.
  • After several days, the discharge becomes clear again and dries.

Sinusitis (Sinus Infections):

  • Sinusitis is an inflammation of the mucosal lining of the nose and sinuses.
  • The infection can begin with inflammation from a viral cold, which can lead to narrowing of the drainage passages of the sinuses. This narrowing can also be related to swelling from an allergy flare up.
  • Symptoms like nasal discharge, headaches, and facial pressure last more than 10 days without improvement or get worse after a week of a common cold.
  • The headaches in sinusitis in general are behind or around the eyes, and they get worse when bending over.

Once you have figured out if what you have is a cold or a sinus infection, what is the best way to manage the infection?


  • Common colds are treated only with over-the-counter medications based on the symptoms they cause.
  • Decongestants for difficulty breathing through the nose are available in oral forms, notably pseudoephedrine (e.g. Sudafed), and topical sprays, i.e. oxymetazoline (Afrin). Note that the decongestant sprays can be used for a maximum of 3 days.
  • For those with thick mucus or pus from a common cold, nasal rinses and neti pots are useful to irrigate the nose.
  • Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) work well for pain.
  • Thick mucus in the nose and chest can be treated with guaifenesin (e.g. Robitussin, Mucinex), and dextromethorphan (Delsym) is helpful for cough.

Sinusitis (Sinus Infections):

  • For a bacterial sinus infection, all of the same over the counter medications and treatments listed above can be helpful for symptomatic relief.
  • However, in the case of a bacterial sinus infection, antibiotics (and sometimes oral steroids) are also indicated, so see your health care provider to confirm the diagnosis and get an appropriate prescription.

Dr. Brett Dorfman recently joined Rex Healthcare’s newly opened Ear, Nose & Throat Specialists at Wakefield. Board certified otolaryngologists Dr. Dorfman and his colleague, Dr. Esa Bloedon, have a combined 22 years experience in Raleigh.

The new practice provides a full range of medical and surgical ear, nose and throat treatment for adult and pediatric patients. In partnership with Rex, a member of UNC Health Care, patients have access to all of the resources and specialty care that Rex and UNC have to offer.

Call 919-570-5900 to schedule an appointment.

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