How to Tell the Difference Between a Cold and a Sinus Infection?

Cold and a Sinus Infection

You never appreciate a clear nose until it’s stuffy and you can’t breathe. Most days, you don’t pay much attention to how blocked your nose is. But when you do notice, it can ruin your entire day.

In order to treat it right, you need to know the cause of it. Unfortunately, a stuffy nose can come from a few different issues. But most often, it’s from the common cold or a sinus infection.

So what’ the difference? Though similar, there are ways you can tell the two apart. Here’s how to tell if you have a common cold vs. sinus infection.

Common Cold

A cold is caused by a virus infecting the upper respiratory system like the nose and throat. There are over 200 different viruses that can cause a cold. Typically mild, symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.


Common symptoms expected with a cold are congestion, stuffy nose, postnasal drip, cough, low-grade fever, and lack of energy. Sneezing and a sore throat are also common with a cold, especially if you experience postnasal drip.


Since a virus causes a cold, antibiotics are not a good treatment. In most cases, a cold can run its course without medication. However, you can take something to ease some of the symptoms like congestion and a headache.

Sinus Infection

On the other hand, a sinus infection—also called sinusitis—is caused by the sinuses becoming inflamed. Typically caused by a bacterial infection; however, a virus or mold can also be the cause. You may also get sinusitis after a cold.

You may experience acute sinus infections that last for less than a month. Or you may have chronic sinus infections, which last for at least three months or more, where the symptoms come and go.


A common cold and sinus infection share many symptoms, leading to them often being mistaken for each other. Along with symptoms like congestion, stuffy nose, and a headache, you may experience sinus pain or pressure.

You can have pain behind your cheekbones, around your eyes, and even in your teeth.


With a sinus infection, you may often treat congestion with saline or a decongestant. A corticosteroid in the form of a nasal spray or a pill may treat inflamed sinuses.

In more serious cases, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics if bacteria cause the infection.

When to See a Doctor

You probably don’t go to the doctor every time you feel a cold or sinus infection coming on. But there are some cases where you should see an ear nose and throat doctor.

If symptoms like sinus pressure and congestion persist, you may need prescribed medication for the infection.

Trying to tell the difference between a sinus infection vs a common cold in babies and children can be difficult.

However, if an infant under three months has a fever above 100.4°F for more than a day, visit a doctor. For a child, a fever that lasts for two days or gets higher, see a doctor.

If you have a severe headache, stiff neck, double vision, confusion, or redness and swelling around your cheeks and eyes, you should get evaluated by a doctor.

The Stuffy Nose Battle: Common Cold vs. Sinus Infection

Dealing with a stuffy nose can make your day miserable. But at what point does it get unbearable? Knowing the difference between a common cold vs. a sinus infection can help you stay at your healthiest.

Not all stuffy noses are the same. So it’s a good idea to be able to tell when it’s more serious. If you’ve found this article helpful, share it with a friend and check out more health articles on the blog today.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Cold and a Sinus Infection?

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