Nasal Infection – Symptoms and Causes of an Infected Nose

The most common type of nasal infection is infectious rhinitis. Viral rhinitis is frequently seen throughout the world and is known by the more widely used term – the common cold. It is an acute infection, with symptoms lasting for about 2 to 3 days, and resolving spontaneously without any treatment. However, an infection of the nasal cavity can often extend to the paranasal sinuses, thereby leading to acute sinusitis. Infection of the nose and sinus is broadly encompassed under the term rhinitis, although it it more correctly described by the term rhinosinusitis.

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Most nasal infections are viral in origin. The sinuses are not involved in every case of rhinitis but are more likely to occur as a secondary infection following rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal lining). Sinusitis may be due to viral or bacterial pathogens but a secondary bacterial infection tends to arise due to the obstruction of the sinus openings as a result of inflammation in viral rhinitis.

Symptoms of a Nasal Infection

The characteristic symptoms of a nasal infection are a runny nose and sneezing. Inflammation of the nasal linings causes an excess secretion of mucus coupled with sneezing due to irritation of the relevant pathways as described under the sneeze reflex. Nasal congestion may occur to varying degrees.

The tendency of the infection to spread to neighboring sites, namely the paranasal sinuses and throat, contributes to further symptoms seen in the typical clinical presentation. This includes a sore throat, hoarse voice and mild coughing.

In more severe infections, nasal bleeding, particularly evident in the nasal mucus, headaches, an itchy ear and swollen neck lymph nodes (cervical lymphadenopathy). Fever is usually not seen with a common cold, but may be present depending on the causative pathogen.

Causes of a Nasal Infection

Viral Infections of the Nose

Infectious rhinitis is most often viral in nature and may be caused by various viruses including an adenovirus, rhinovirus, parainfluenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and enterovirus. These type of infections are notoriously contagious and easily transmitted by droplet spread. Although the most acute symptoms tend to last for about 3 days, the infection usually lasts for 7 days.

Bacterial Infections of the Nose

Bacterial rhinitis tends to occur as a secondary infection, either following a viral infection or with pre-existing allergic rhinitis and related nasorespiratory disorders. The more common causative bacterial strains includes staphylococci, streptococci and pneumococci. Treatment with antibiotics is often needed.

Fungal Infections of the Nose

Fungal nasal infections are not uncommon and are more frequently seen in the chronic setting. Blastomycosis and histoplasmosis do not cause as acute symptoms like in viral and bacterial rhinitis. As with other pathogenic microorganisms that tend to cause chronic infections of the nose, fungal nasal infections may result in destruction of the surrounding tissue including the cartilage and bone.

Chronic Infections of the Nose

Other pathogens involved in chronic infections are similar to fungal infections in that it tends to lead to chronic granulomatous disease. This includes leprosy, tuberculosis (TB), syphilis, rhinosporidiosis and leishmaniasis. Chronic infectious rhinitis occurring without other underlying local factors may be seen in immunocompromised patients like with HIV infection long term, poorly controlled diabetes mellitus.

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Reference :

  1. Rhinitis. Merck

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