Common Cold Vs. Sinus Infection: How To Tell The Difference

Experiencing headache, fever, runny nose, and other such issues? These can be symptoms of the common cold or sinus infection. Apart from the symptoms, the two conditions are also similar in terms of causes. When aggravated, the common cold can lead to sinus. Correct diagnosis is required as sinus infections might need timely medical interventions. So let’s figure out how to differentiate one from the other based on the symptoms, causes, and treatments.

How To Recognize The Common Cold

How To Recognize The Common Cold: cold vs. sinus infection


The Common Cold And Its Causes

The common cold can be extremely tiring, debilitating, and painful, but it lasts only for about 7–10 days on an average.

The common cold is a viral infection that nearly every adult suffers from at least twice a year. Although the common cold is, as the name suggests, a common ailment, not all of the possible causes have been found yet. In more than 50 percent of common cold cases, the rhinovirus is the root cause.1 However, there are multiple other viruses that could be playing the antagonist, some known and some unknown, and some bacteria as well.


The viruses spread from person to person in multiple ways:

  • Through direct physical contact with affected individuals
  • By touching a contaminated area and then touching your face or nose
  • Through contaminated air when someone sneezes or coughs

As most people believe, cold weather is not necessarily a cause although the ailment occurs more frequently during winter and rainy seasons. It is frequently seen if you have a lowered immune system, you are stressed, if exposed to a new virus your body hasn’t fought before, and if you suffer from asthma or acute obstructive pulmonary disease.


Symptoms Of Common Cold

Common cold might express itself as one or all of the following symptoms, which usually subside and stop in a week or so:

  • Stuffy, blocked and/or a runny nose
  • Discolored mucus
  • Dry throat
  • Drowsiness
  • Sneezing bouts
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Cough
  • Fever (usually mild)

If you have a high fever and muscle pains, it might be the indication of flu and not cold.


Treatment Options For Common Cold

You can help with the recovery by taking over-the-counter (OTC) drugs or some Ayurvedic home remedies, which frequently use ingredients such as basil, ginger, and turmeric. Overall, the common cold does not require intensive care. But you can recover faster by following taking precautionary steps such as the following.

Do’s And Don’ts For Common Cold

  • The fever and cold can result in severe fatigue. Depending on how tired you are, make sure you take enough rest and sleep well.
  • Eat healthy and hot foods. Consequently, avoid cold foods of any kind.
  • Stay happy and cheerful; keep yourself distracted to help clear your mind.
  • Do not exercise too much. Let your body recover completely.
  • Do not ride or drive as the cold and any medicines put together can make you really drowsy.

How To Recognize A Sinus Infection

How To Recognize A Sinus Infection: cold vs. sinus infection


Sinus Infection And Its Causes

Sinuses are air pockets in the facial bones behind the brows, eyes, nose, and cheeks. Their job is to expel dust, bacteria, and similar pollutants via secretion. In sinus infections, these air pockets cannot do their job efficiently.

An already present nasal ailment creates an atmosphere favorable for harmful bacterial growth, which exerts pressure on the face and results in pain.


In bacterial sinus infections, the bacteria start to grow in the sinuses. And the presence of cold, asthma, allergies, or similar such ailments cause the inflammation of sinuses, which blocks the air pockets.2 All of these reduce and stop the expulsion of toxins from the sinuses.

Symptoms Of Sinus Infection

The most prominent indicator of sinus infections is that the symptoms do not respond to OTC drugs and persist for more than a week. They last well beyond 10 days. The symptoms are as follows:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Facial pain and headache, which increase if you lower your head
  • Toothache
  • Fever
  • Bad breath
  • A reduced sense of smell
  • Yellow or greenish mucus from the nose and throat

Treatment Options For Sinus Infection

Some sinus infections can reduce without medications in about 10 days. However, if the sickness prolongs, ensure you go to the doctor before it aggravates. Your doctor might prescribe antibiotics, mucus thinners, and decongestants. Do not take antibiotics unless prescribed and absolutely necessary. By taking a few precautionary measures such as the following, you can accelerate the recovery period.

Do’s And Don’ts For Sinus Infection

  • Rest well and do not exercise too much.
  • Keep yourself well hydrated with enough and more fluids.
  • Take some steam to relieve the nasal pathway at least twice a day.
  • Use a saline spray.
  • Practice neti (nasal irrigation) with saline water at least twice a day and pranayama.
  • Dip a cloth in warm water and apply it to your face a few times a day.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Avoid any allergens that might increase the infection.

Here’s what you need to remember. While a cold might lead to sinus infection, there can be other causes. And sometimes it just is the common cold. Wait and watch for at least a week, take OTC drugs if the symptoms are unbearable during this period, and visit your doctor if the condition is too severe and doesn’t subside in severity. In general, these conditions are nothing to be scared of. Eat healthily, rest well, and stay hydrated.