Healthy side healthy, cold side cold.
April 16, 2010 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Whenever I catch a cold, I get symptoms in only one side of my face. Why?

For me, colds always start out with one runny/stuffy nostril and one watery eye. One side of my face will be leaky and miserable, and the other will be totally normal. I think it's usually (or always) my left side that's afflicted, but I've never kept track. I've been getting colds this way for as long as I remember.

Sometimes, after a day or two, the cold progresses into the other side of my face for a while; when this happens the symptoms are often less severe and don't last as long. Other times, it turns into allover sinus congestion. Accompanying headaches and sore throats, when I get them, are not isolated to one side.

What's going on that causes the one-sided response? Does the virus prefer hanging out on my left side? Is my immune system stronger on the right? Is my body trying to keep the symptoms on one side at a time so I can see and breathe okay with the other side? Google hasn't turned up anything informative for me.
posted by Metroid Baby to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you sleep on your side or sit with your head to one side all the time?

I sleep on my side and when I am stuffed up, I'll wake up with one nostril completely stuffed and be able to breath easily out of the other.
posted by chiefthe at 11:55 AM on April 16, 2010

Just guessing here, but perhaps there is some physical irregularity, like the sinus/drainage on the left side is narrower. That way, when things swell up due to a cold, that side is more likely to get stuffed up (watery eyes happen b/c of being stuffed up, too). The other side might be affected too, but because it is wider or the drainage is more efficient, you don't notice a change (mucus usually drains down your throat).
posted by Knicke at 11:56 AM on April 16, 2010

I have a small nasal polyp in my left maxillary sinus which doesn't really cause me any problems. But whenever my seasonal allergies get bad, I tend to feel stuffier on that side. Never noticed this with colds.

Could be a similar quirk of your anatomy that either allows rhinoviruses to take hold more easily on one side, or causes symptoms to present sooner on that side? IANAD.
posted by bennett being thrown at 12:05 PM on April 16, 2010

This happens to me too. Having looked at quite a few CT scans of my sinuses, I'm pretty confident that it is due to physical differences from one side to the other. I was surprised at how different the passages were in shape and size. Different shapes means different drainage properties and different sizes means differing degrees of inflammation needed to cause blockages. It may be easier for an infection to get a hold on one side or the other and much easier for that infection to progress. That's just the way it is for me and it may be the same for you.

It is also possible that you have a chronic infection on one side. You can see a specialist to have a look at it if you find that you get a lot of infections or if they last a long time, but I don't think it is anything to worry about otherwise.
posted by ssg at 12:56 PM on April 16, 2010

I forgot to mention that this is an issue that I've discussed with a number of specialists who take it as a given that sinus size and shape can affect susceptibility to infection.
posted by ssg at 12:59 PM on April 16, 2010

You probably had a defect on the sinus(es) on that side of your face. I would visit a ENT that is well known for ESS (endoscopic sinus surgery) to see if that is the issue.

FWIW--I've had sinus surgery and this sounds very familiar.
posted by 6:1 at 1:58 PM on April 16, 2010

I often have one side worse than the other, and I find that laying on my stomach with my head pointing so that the better side is down helps. Of course, then the better side isn't better anymore, but it feels good to have relief on the bad side.

If you need a decongestant, rather than taking a pill, try something like the Vicks Vapo-inhaler and only use it on the bad side.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:09 PM on April 16, 2010

I have a slightly deviated septum [like you can't even tell but the doctor told me once and I had an "Aha!" moment] that pretty much causes this. Always get sick from right to left.
posted by jessamyn at 4:58 PM on April 16, 2010

I had a severely deviated septum that caused really serious and frequent sinus infections. I also had stronger symptoms on the right side, which was caused by my septum pretty much blocking off any drainage on that side. If you're having serious issues with it, you could see an ear nose and throat specialist. It could be that your septum is just slightly deviated.
posted by lexicakes at 7:19 PM on April 16, 2010

Response by poster: Interesting! It's certainly possible I have some sort of abnormality in my left sinus, or a deviated septum, or something; my nostrils are somewhat uneven, so I wouldn't be surprised if I was asymmetrical on the inside too. (Also, sometimes when I get a stuffy nose, it won't feel congested so much as there's some sort of invisible wall blocking my nasal passage off, and blowing/neti pots do nothing for it. I wonder if that's related.)

It's never been bothersome enough for me to see a doctor, but I have wanted to see an ENT just out of curiosity - to see if everything's generally working and clear of crud.

When I have stuffy sinuses and am sleeping on my side, the congestion will often drift down to the bottom nostril. With my last cold, however, when I was in the early one-sided phase, laying on my other side didn't work at all. After a couple days when it faded to general sinus stuffiness, the congestion drifted around whenever I rolled over.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:19 PM on April 16, 2010

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