Sinus Infection vs. Common Cold: What’s the Difference?

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Sniffles. Headache. Cough. No doubt about it – you have a sinus infection. Or maybe it’s just the common cold. With symptoms that may overlap, it’s easy to mistake one for the other, but effectively treating each one means understanding the differences. Board-certified physician Dr. Priti Ranjan and the primary care specialists at Nest Family Medicine in Plano, TX can help treat any acute illness, from a sinus infection to a common cold and much more.

What is a sinus infection?

A sinus infection, formally called sinusitis, is an inflammation of the tissue lining the sinuses. Healthy sinuses allow air to flow through your nasal passages and produce mucus that moistens in the inside of your nose, protecting it from dust and allergens.

When sinuses become blocked, they can fill with fluids that cause an infection because the fluid cannot properly drain. Viruses and bacteria can cause sinus infections, but untreated common colds can also lead to sinus infections.

The main symptoms of a sinus infection are:

  • Runny nose with green or yellow discharge

  • Stuffed-up nose

  • Facial pressure or pain

  • Cough or congestion

  • Loss of smell

Other possible symptoms, though less common, can occur. These include fever, fatigue, dental pain, and bad breath.YB6j1AL

What is a common cold?

Colds are caused by viruses, most often rhinovirus. These viruses infect the nose, mouth, throat, and lungs, causing a variety of respiratory symptoms. In some people, colds will advance into other conditions, such as a sinus infection, bronchitis, or pneumonia.

The main symptoms of a cold are:

  • Runny nose with clear discharge

  • Headache

  • Cough

  • Sore throat

  • Sneezing

  • Body aches

Most people recover within about a week, but those with asthma, respiratory conditions, or weakened immune systems are more susceptible to having colds that cause more serious health problems.

Residents of Plano,TX should visit Dr. Ranjan at Nest Family Medicine to help manage their chronic health conditions.

How are sinus infections and common colds similar?

Sinus infections and common colds have many similarities, and sinus infections are frequently caused by colds that don’t completely resolve themselves. But one of the biggest reasons for people to confuse one for the other is that they have many symptoms in common.

A person will usually have a runny nose in either case, and they likely will also have a cough regardless of whether they have a sinus infection or a common cold. And while sinus infections technically cause facial pain, it’s easy to mistake this discomfort for a headache.

How are sinus infections and common colds different?

Though they are similar, there are some important areas of overlap that can help you tell the difference between a sinus infection and a cold.

One of the biggest signals is the length of time you’ve been sick. While colds can last a week or more, they usually come on quickly, with symptoms that peak after a few days and then begin to go away. Sinus infections, on the other hand, can linger. So, if you’ve had a runny nose or sinus pressure that’s been around for more than a week, a sinus infection is probably the culprit.

Another major indicator is the nature of your pain. If you’re experiencing facial pain or you feel pressure in your sinuses, that leans toward sinus infection rather than a cold. When you blow your nose, note the color of any discharge because that can also help determine the nature of your illness. Clear mucus is typically related to a cold, while yellow or green mucus is more indicative of a sinus infection.

Finally, another important reason why your team at Nest Family Medicine will need to understand your symptoms in detail is that treatment for sinus infections and colds can vary. Sinus infections caused by bacteria can be treated with antibiotics, while viral sinus infections and common colds can’t be cured directly. Treatment of viral infections focuses on relieving symptoms rather than curing the virus.

See our team to help relieve your sinus infection or common cold symptoms

Whether you or your family member’s illness is caused by a sinus infection or the common cold, the symptoms they cause can be unpleasant. But the sooner a diagnosis can be made, the sooner you can begin feeling better. Dr. Priti Ranjan and the team at Nest Family Medicine in Plano, TX have you covered whether you’ve got a sinus infection or a cold. Call today to schedule an appointment.

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.