Is It A Sinus Infection Or Cold?

woman stress headacheMany cold and sinus infection symptoms often overlap with each other, making it difficult to determine if you’re suffering from a common cold or a sinus infection. Take the following symptoms for example:

Cold Symptoms:

  • Usually lasts 5 days or less
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Fatigue
  • Headache

Sinus Infection Symptoms:

  • Usually lasts 5 days or more
  • Thick yellow or green mucus
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Runny, stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Facial pain – behind your eyes, forehead, teeth or cheekbones

So, how can you tell if you have a cold or a sinus infection? “The common cold is a viral infection while most sinusitis is a bacterial infection,” explains Dr. Bola Oyeyipo, a family physician in San Antonio, Texas and co-founder of “The main difference between the two is the duration of symptoms and the intensity of those symptoms.”

A fever may also signal a bacterial infection. Sinus infections are sometimes accompanied by a low-grade fever, while colds typically are not. Other viruses (such as the flu) do cause fevers, however.

Another potentially helpful sign is the color of your nasal discharge. Unlike colds, which generally produce clear mucus, bacterial infections can produce greenish or yellow mucus. However, viruses sometimes produce colorful discharge as well, so this isn’t considered a fail-safe test.

As mentioned earlier, a cold will usually go away within five days or less with the help of over-the-counter medications, plenty of rest and don’t underestimate the power of good ole chicken noodle soup. A sinus infection, on the other hand, will last longer than five days and may require you to see a doctor. Most of the time, antibiotics will do the job, but sinus irrigation and over-the-counter decongestants can also help ease your symptoms.

So, when is it time to see a doctor? “Thick nasal discharge, fevers, headaches, and facial pain of more than five days should prompt a doctor’s assessment,” Dr. Oyeyipo says. “These would likely require antibiotics to clear the infection.”

If sinusitis seems to be a reoccurring problem for you, then it may be time to schedule an appointment with an ear, nose and throat specialist right away.