You likely know that a virus, like the common cold, cannot be treated with antibiotics. This can make you hesitant to even bother making an appointment with your primary care physician who won't be able to offer a simple prescription pill to make you feel better. However, when cold symptoms seem to last a long time, it is often a sign that the virus has caused a bacterial infection; that your doctor can treat. One common bacterial infection that occurs after the common cold is a sinus infection. Learn how to spot the signs that your clogged nose is no longer just a cold symptom and how you, with the help of your physician, can get rid of it.
Why Common Colds Can Lead to Sinus Infections
Sinus infections often occur after an attack of the common cold, because the cold typically causes your nasal passages to become very congested with mucus. Your nasal passages are always filled with some healthy mucus, but when you catch the cold virus, your body begins producing more and packing it with white blood cells that help fight the cold virus. Once your body overcomes the cold virus, your sinuses then stop producing the extra mucus and white blood cells, because it senses that the virus is gone.
However, while your nasal passages and sinuses are filled with mucus, they also become the perfect warm, moist breeding ground for "bad" bacteria. If bacteria enters your nose while it is congested, and the white blood cells cannot overpower it quickly, it begins to breed and you then have a bacterial sinus infection.
What to Do if You Suspect You Have a Bacterial Sinus Infection
If most of your cold symptoms go away, like your cough, sore throat, and fatigue, and you are still left with stuffed up nasal passages, then the first step is to visit a primary care physician. He or she can take a culture of your nasal mucus and see just what type of bacteria is in it. If harmful bacteria is detected, then it is a sign that you have a bacterial sinus infection.
Once they take this culture, he or she can provide a prescription antibiotic that may help you begin feeling better in just a few days. However, bacterial sinus infections are becoming antibiotic-resistant, just like many infections are today. For this reason, many doctors are recommending that patients not only take antibiotics to battle their sinus infections, but also use a technique to break down the resistant bacteria manually, so the antibiotics can kill them more easily.
A Small Extra Step to Help Antibiotics Fight Your Sinus Infection
Scientists have recently discovered that the bacteria that causes many sinus infections often develops a biofilm around it, and antibiotics have a tough time getting through this biofilm to kill the bacteria. You can think of it as the bacteria's "armor." As tough as it is for antibiotics to penetrate this armor, surprisingly, some of today's commonly used surfactants can break it down.
While it would be relatively impossible (with today's medical technology) to use surfactants to battle many resistant bacterial infections of the body, thankfully, it is relatively easy to use their biofilm-breaking powers to battle bacteria in the sinuses.
How? Doctors now often instruct patients to add a few drops of standard baby shampoo to the traditional saline solution used to fill a neti pot. A neti pot is a small, teapot-shaped device that is typically filled with just saline water and used to flush sinuses when people suffer from allergies or other sinus problems.
The traditional neti pot recipe for a basic sinus rinse is about one cup of distilled water, one-quarter teaspoon of baking soda, and one-quarter teaspoon of sea salt. However, adding just one-quarter teaspoon of baby shampoo to this solution can break up those tough biofilms and make it easier for antibiotics to then kill the bad bacteria. Don't worry that flushing your nose with baby shampoo will harm you or hurt, because it is not harmful, and most neti pot users can't feel the difference when using the surfactant-laced saline solution versus the saline solution alone.
If your doctor suggests this additional step for fighting a sinus infection that developed after a cold, be sure to follow their instructions precisely. They will advise you on how often to rinse with the solution and may want you to vary how you create it. It is important to never use tap water to rinse your nasal passages, because it can contain a dangerous amoeba that could find its way to your brain and cause a deadly infection.
If your clogged sinuses and nasal passages persist after the rest of your cold symptoms are gone or much less severe, then you may have a sinus infection that your doctor can help you get rid of. Unlike the cold, a bacterial sinus infection can be cured with antibiotics from your doctor, and if your doctor instructs you to help cure your infection by using a neti pot and baby shampoo, now you know why it will help.