How to Know When That Cold is Really a Sinus Infection

woman sick with colds with thermometer and hot tea


            You can feel a cold coming on. Or maybe it’s the flu. You’re got a runny nose. You’re sneezing more. You can’t breathe out of your one nostrils, and you’re feeling awful. You can feel the mucous going down the back of your throat and it’s making you cough. It’s making your throat sore and you’ve lost your voice. You think it’s just a cold, or, maybe, if it’s not the right season, you think it’s just your allergies acting up. Maybe that’s what it is, but maybe it’s a sinus infection, which can knock you out of commission for longer and will make you need to go see a doctor to clear it up with some antibiotics.


Your sinuses are located in your head. They’re cavities that help with the tenor and timbre of your voice. They also fill with mucous and drain out of your nose and can get viruses and bacteria into their lining giving you a pretty nasty illness.

Viruses — such as the cold virus and the flu virus — and your allergies are often associated with sinus infections because they can make your sinuses more susceptible to illness. Basically anything that causes the lining of your sinuses to get inflamed or swollen can increase the likelihood that your sinuses will become infected, making you sicker than a dog. A cold will only last for a couple of days. It’ll lay you up for only a day or two. But a sinus infection will linger. And it’s even worse when it follows in the footsteps of a cold. That makes your illness last even longer, keeping you either out of commission or at least at diminished capacity for weeks.


man with acute sinus infection

There are two kinds of sinus infections that you need to watch out for.

An acute sinus infection will only last for about a week and subside with some over the counter medications to help it along the way. But there are also chronic sinus infections. These, most commonly, occur when a sinus infection goes untreated and will last for anywhere between 10 days and a month. Chronic sinus infections, most often, require a visit to see a medical professional, some prescription drugs, and some serious rest to help fight off. Some people are, generally, more susceptible to chronic sinus infections depending on the health of their immune system. Weaker immune systems have more trouble fighting off infection.

One of the best ways to make sure that a sinus infection doesn’t kill your productivity for weeks is to catch it early and treat it properly. Make sure that you can recognize the signs of a sinus infection and differentiate those symptoms from other common illnesses to make sure that you can get on top of it and attack it right away. Some early over the counter medications or early natural treatments can go a long way to helping fight off the infection.


One key way to tell if you’re dealing with a sinus infection rather than the common cold is to take note of the symptoms.

Are you experiencing pain or pressure in your face? A great way to test this is to merely press the areas that might be affected — your sinuses. These are located in your forehead and cheeks. If you press on them and it feels like you’re relieving some of the pressure of what you thought was just a run of the mill headache or even a migraine, then you’re likely dealing with a sinus infection instead. Your sinuses run so low that sometimes it can even feel like you have a toothache. That toothache is actually just the swelling of the lining of your sinuses pressing against your top teeth. This is something that, in a particularly bad case of a sinus infection, can actually happen.


couple having colds sneezingLess of a telltale sign when it comes to sinus infections is a runny nose.

If it’s associated with congestion, then you’re getting a little closer to being able to associate it with a sinus infection rather than just the cold virus. Sinus infections cause swelling in the lining of the sinuses that causes them to be unable to drain through the nose. The mucous then builds up in your sinuses and slowly leaks out. This will cause your nose to slowly drip and need to be blown more often. You may also feel it dripping out into your mouth where your nasal cavity connects to it and dripping down your throat — a particularly unpleasant feeling. Take note of the color and texture of the mucous that you’re blowing out into a tissue. If it is thick and discolored, then it is more likely that you have a sinus infection rather than a bout with a cold or a particularly bad reaction with your allergies. The drip down your throat is referred to as post-nasal drip and can lead to a sore throat, coughing and even laryngitis. If you’re coughing or choking up the same thick, discolored mucous that you saw in your tissue, then you are more likely to be dealing with a sinus infection.


That mucous that’s dripping down your throat, it might stink.

A sign of a sinus infection is bad or odorous breath. This comes from having to breathe through your mouth more often, drying it out. Mouth breathers, generally, have worse breath than those who breath through their nose. But right now you don’t have much of a choice.


So take note of these symptoms. If you’re struggling with a crop of them for more than a week, then you should seek the advice of a medical professional. They’re likely to prescribe a combination of over the counter medications and prescription ones to fight off this nasty illness. Likely it’ll include some form of nasal spray, and an antibiotic if they come to the conclusion that the source of the infection is bacterial in nature. Once you’re medicated, it should only be a matter of days until you’re back in fighting shape, and back to being a fully functional and productive member of society, whose head isn’t inflamed and full of mucous.