Is it a Cold or Sinus Infection?

Posted by Leonardo Espitia, M.D. on Aug 3, 2016, 9:00:00 AM

Sore throat, headache, watery eyes, fatigue, runny nose – you have a cold, right? Or is it a sinus infection? We often don’t know right away. Letting a cold go with over-the-counter treatment is one thing, but if you neglect a sinus infection, you could find yourself worse for wear. Here’s how to tell the difference between the two. 

Cold Virus








If you have a cold virus, here are the symptoms to look for:

  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen sinuses
  • Sore throat
  • Mucus buildup 

Typically, colds get better with rest, plenty of fluids and over-the-counter medications within 10 days. The common cold is the result of a viral infection, so antibiotics won’t help – you’ll just have to let it run its course. Patients often have trouble getting plenty of rest – whether it’s because they’re busy with their households or work life or simply because sleeping can be difficult if you’re coughing or having trouble breathing when lying down. Whatever you do, don’t neglect rest. Your body needs to fight off the infection and pulling it in too many directions will only delay your recovery. 

Sinus Infections


Sinus infections (also called sinusitis) occur when nasal passages become infected. They are often categorized by the following symptoms: 

  • Pain in your sinus area (eyes, cheeks and forehead) associated with swelling and inflammation
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Sinus discharge
  • Congestion
  • Fever 

The biggest distinction between a cold and a sinus infection is the fever, the location of head pain and the amount of time symptoms linger. Colds often get better with proper recovery methods in about a week, while sinus infections can linger. Low-grade fevers sometimes accompany a cold but usually don’t and are more commonly associated with a bacterial sinus infection. Sinusitis can be caused by many things, from a toothache to a cold that lingered too long. And while a cold is always viral, a sinus infection can sometimes be bacterial, which means antibiotics can help with your recovery. Similar to a cold, the best thing you can do for a sinus infection, other than seeing your doctor, is rest and drink plenty of fluids to help your body fight off the infection. 

Don’t Hesitate to Call Your Doc

If you have questions about whether you’ve got a cold or sinus infection, no one is more suitable to answer them than your doctor. Oftentimes, the two illnesses are so similar it might take additional testing to determine how to approach treatment. The bottom line is if you’re sick and your symptoms worsen over a day or two, the best course of action is to rest, drink fluids and call your doctor. 



Dr. Leonardo Espitia is a board-certified Family Medicine physician with Kelsey-Seybold”s The Woodlands Clinic. He specializes in the management of chronic medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. 



Topics: sinus, differences between colds and sinus infections, colds

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