Do I have a sinus infection?

Time saver 3 min read

Sneezes, coughs, stuffy nose and fever. Yep, it’s that time of year again when “something” is going around. You figure it's just another cold, right? Maybe not. The problem could be your sinuses.

Acute sinusitis, also known as a good old sinus infection, can often accompany or follow a viral cold. And a lot of the symptoms you may experience with a cold – including nasal congestion, sinus pain and postnasal drip – are also common sinus infection symptoms.

So which is it? Because cold symptoms and sinusitis symptoms often overlap, it can be hard to figure out the underlying cause of your discomfort. Here’s a quick visual guide to help you determine if you have a cold or if it’s turned into a sinus infection.

Sinus Infection Cold
Duration 9 - 14 days 5 - 7 days
Congestion In face In chest
Coughing Sometimes Sometimes
Facial pain Usually Not likely
Fever First 1-2 days Sometimes
Headache Behind eyes Mild
Loss of smell Usually Not likely
Nasal discharge Thick Runny
Sore throat Not likely Sometimes
Stuffy / Runny nose Usually Usually
Tooth pain Sometimes Not likely
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Symptom Myth

Colored mucus – whether green, yellow, or something in between – doesn’t tell us if a sinus infection is viral or bacterial. It does indicate that your body’s immune system is fighting something.

All symptoms point to a sinus infection

Sinus headache behind the eyes– check. Sinus cavity pain – check. Congested nasal passages – check. Even when all signs suggest that you have a sinus infection, it’s still a good idea to reach out to a medical provider who can help determine if your infection is viral or bacterial.

Viral sinus infections are most common, and usually stem from a viral infection like the common cold. If your infection is viral in nature, antibiotics won’t help because they don’t, and can’t, attack viruses. Instead, treatment includes a blend of over-the-counter medications, in a safe dosage and combination, to help bring relief while your immune system fights the virus.

Bacterial infections are also likely to follow a viral cold that evolves into a bacterial infection within the sinus passages. Bacterial sinusitis is less common overall, but more likely if your symptoms continue to worsen and stick around for more than 10 days. Treatment for a bacterial sinus infection often includes an antibiotic.

For either type of infection, reducing the pain and pressure are the key to getting you back to 100%.

Relief from the pain & pressure

Pain can be managed with over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen. When taking any over-the-counter medication, make sure to follow the package instructions and check with your care provider. To provide maximum relief from your symptoms safely, your provider may recommend a different dosage or frequency.

To reduce sinus pressure and keep the infection from getting worse, it’s important to reduce swelling and keep sinus passages clear. Home remedies like steam therapy, Neti Pots and drinking plenty of clear non-caffeinated fluids can help. In addition, medications such as expectorants and nasal sprays may be recommended to thin mucus and reduce inflammation.

Sometimes it’s hard to know if it’s a sinus infection, cold or allergies. We’ll help you get to the bottom of what’s causing your symptoms. Visit our online clinic today to get the right diagnosis and treatment.

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