Sinus Infection vs Cold: Which One Is It?

In Diagnosis & Treatment by Dr. Clinton Osborn

There are times when we wonder whether we have a sinus infection or a cold. The best way to find out is to talk to a doctor. Of course, the doctor will ask you several questions so they can get down to the bottom of your sickness. Try to remember as much as you can, including how you could have possibly gotten it.

The doctor is like a detective; his or her main objective is to uncover the underlying issue to the cold or sinus problem. Once he or she finds the problem, they will be able to prescribe the right medication.

Sinus infections and colds are two conditions that have a lot of similarities and differences. Almost everyone you know had one or the other at some point in their lives.

We have everything you need to know about both sinus infections and colds in this article. 

A strong immune system can help you avoid not only colds and sinus infections but also other underlying conditions. Keep in mind that stress can weaken the immune system and make you vulnerable to the cold and sinus infection. Another potential cause can be lack of proper exercise. Make sure to hit the gym at least three times a week to strengthen your immune system and release endorphins.

As you grow older, you are also more vulnerable to infections and other unfavorable conditions. Life is not fair, and it can be frustrating to know why some people are more susceptible to these conditions, while others are free from misery. 

At the end of the day, it’s all about a healthy lifestyle to help you fight off both a cold and sinus infection. Fortunately, we got everything that you need to have a good insight into the “sinus infection vs. cold” debate.

Avoid Infected People

Crowds of people, easily infected

When you see a sick person, try to avoid getting too close to them. If you can’t avoid the situation and they get near you, then it is best to go to the bathroom and wash your hands and face. You should not be surprised if you wake up the next day with a sinus infection too. If you’re in crowded areas during the cold seasons, take extra precautions. The last thing you would want to happen is to get infected and get sick for a whole week or month.

You can never predict how long your sickness will last, but just know that the symptoms can affect your performance at work. If it gets worse, you may even be forced to miss a few days. It’s alright if you still have sick leaves to use and your boss allows it. However, it would be a shame if you are forced to use all of them.

There isn’t much you can do but to try and keep yourself healthy so your immune system can fight the battle. As of now, it is common knowledge that these infections are highly contagious and can spread from one person to another in a matter of seconds. 

Related: 10 Best Flu Medicines That Can Be Bought OTC

The Difference Between a Sinus Infection and a Cold

Catching a cold

The difference between a sinus infection and cold is the part of the body it affects.

A cold is a severe infection that affects the nose or throat while a sinus infection involves the area around the nose. From the definition alone, you can tell a sinus infection affects a more direct location in the body. A cold usually lasts for 2-5 days but a sinus infection can linger for more than a week.

While it is true that this sickness will eventually go away, the proper supportive therapy can speed up the recovery process. It’s really difficult to find out how or where you got infected, but it’s advisable to stay indoors.

There are times when you may get both a sinus infection and a cold at the same time. There are also times when a cold will follow a sinus infection. You know you have a sinus infection when you think your colds have disappeared only for it to come back a few days later.

There are two types of sinus infections: viral and bacterial. However, the cold is usually caused by a viral infection. When you are infected with viral sinusitis, there is a considerable chance that you also have a cold or the flu. It can be dangerous when the individual is immunocompromised because their immune system will not be able to suppress the virus, therefore allowing it to spread.

Bacterial infections tend to result in more severe symptoms and would lead to high fever and foul-smelling sinus. Bacterial infections will require prescription antibiotics to eradicate it.

Related: Flu vs Cold: Understanding the Differences


The best way of differentiating between a cold and sinus infection is by looking at the signs and symptoms. 

The cold is mainly an infection of the throat, which entails a sore throat or a cough that gets worse when you try to sleep at night. It also has other symptoms of sneezing, stuffy/runny nose, low-grade fever, and body aches. Usually, these symptoms last for 3-5 days, and will gradually improve, but some people can have more severe symptoms that can go past 10 days up to a month.

Since a sinus infection focuses on the areas around the nose, then you will experience a painful nasal cavity in the face, jaw, and possibly develop a toothache. When you go to the dentist, he or she can explain that the issue is not the tooth, but sinusitis and they will direct you to a doctor. 

Another sign that you may have a sinus infection is when you get tired easily. You will notice some drastic changes in your daily habits when you get exhausted after a few hours.

Symptoms of sinus infections are more severe and can last up to a month. The symptoms entail yellow or green nasal discharge, stuffy nose, facial pain, cough, headaches/migraines, pain in the upper jaw and teeth, fatigue, fever, and foul breath.

Sinus infections may clear up without treatment, but you would most likely need it if the infection were caused by a bacterial agent. Talk to a healthcare professional online to learn more.


The first thing to remember when treating either a cold or a sinus infection is to eat healthy food. It will only get worse if you indulge yourself with a pint of ice cream and can of soda. These foods will make your throat a lot worse than it already is. Besides, those two things contain lots of sugar, which can make you prone to secondary bacterial infection. This could be problematic for either sinusitis or a cold and will require an antibiotic medication from the doctor

The right food, like steamy chicken noodle soup, can provide warmth and comfort to loosen up mucus discharge so it can drain out more effectively. Make sure to eat fruits and vegetables because they are jammed packed with vitamin C, which is beneficial for strengthening up your immune system.

Nasal decongestants are used to treat both of these conditions. Sudafed decongestants contain pseudoephedrine, which will constrict the nasal blood vessels to reduce mucus flow. It provides instant release, unfortunately, if used more than a couple of days, it can result in rebound congestion. This is mainly because the nasal blood vessels are too reliant on the nasal spray that it stops working properly and can result in worse cold and sinusitis symptoms than before. Saline nasal congestion is safer because they don’t result in rebound congestion that Sudafed may.

If you have significant pain in your body, then it’s advisable to take painkillers that are sold over the counter. There are some painkillers that can only be bought when there is a doctor’s prescription. Beware of the side effects as some painkillers, like NSAID, can erode the GI lining of the stomach, leading to a severe ulcer. Acetaminophen is an excellent alternative to NSAID, but it can cause liver damage at high dosage, so be cautious with these medications.

Don’t forget to follow the instructions and use the proper dosage. For example, if you decided to use a Sudafed, then it’s essential to follow the directions written on the label. Don’t go beyond its recommended dosage to avoid potential side effects. If the lettering on the instructions is too small, you can always go to the internet for more insight. There are definitely a lot of websites that transcribed the directions for viewers.

Keep in mind that when young children have sinusitis, it’s best to avoid aspirin. It has been known to cause Reye’s syndrome, which can damage the liver leading to life-threatening outcomes.

Related: Treat the Flu Online With GuruMD

Are Sinus Infections Common in Children?

Children and sinus infection

Sinus infections are common in children because they love to play outdoors on the ground with dirt or in dirty areas indoors. They can inhale the virus or bacteria from the dirt and get sick from it. Therefore, it’s best to keep an eye on them while they are exploring the playground or unsanitary areas in the house.

Another common way for kids to obtain the infection is at daycare when they are exposed to other sick kids. It is possible that some kids are already infected with a virus, so it’s best to keep your kids clean after daycare. That is why it’s best to leave the kids at home when they are sick, so they don’t get other people sick.

The best way to get rid of the infection is to keep the child’s immune system strong with healthy foods, vitamins, and having plenty of rest. Some infections can last a few days while others last several weeks. If it lasts several days, better take your kids to see the doctor. Symptoms that are severe or lasts too long may indicate a bacterial infection that will require antibiotic medication from the doctor.

The cold is a common issue for children during the winter season when the virus more prevalent. That is why it’s best to get a flu shot for your child, family member, and you. 

The flu shot contains an influenza viral antigen that stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies to fight against it. This training session teaches the immune system what kind of antibodies to create if they were infected again. Plus the vaccine will reduce the severity of the cold symptoms to speed up recovery time.

Related: Online Physicians Offer Family Subscription Healthcare


Whether you have a sinus infection or a cold, it’s best to talk to a doctor right away. After all, they underwent several years of training just to give you the best advice you can possibly get. It would be better to look for recommendations first. You can ask your friends to find out which doctor they had experienced excellent results with.

Keep in mind that during the winter seasons, the doctor’s appointments are usually booked, so you might want to opt for an urgent care clinic and ER. The physician can conduct a physical exam, especially around the nasal area to differentiate between sinusitis and colds. The cold has more comprehensive symptoms on the body. The sinusitis, on the other hand, will most likely result in severe redness, crust, facial pain, and yellow-green nasal discharge.

You can also get advice within seconds just by sending the doctor a text. If you can consult with a physician online, then there would be no need to head to the nearest hospital and wait for hours.

Related: Why Should I Use an Online Doctor?