What’s the Difference Between a Cold and a Sinus Infection?

Most people want to take care of their health, but it’s not always easy. So many illnesses have symptoms that overlap, making it difficult to know when to see a doctor and when to ride it out alone. Because a cold typically involves nasal congestion and swelling of mucous membranes, it can be hard to tell whether you have a common cold or a sinus infection. 

So how can you tell the difference between a cold and a sinus infection? Though cold and sinus infection symptoms overlap and colds can sometimes turn into sinus infections, there are still some signs that indicate you have one or the other.

Colds usually go away more quickly.

Typically, when you have a cold, symptoms last 10 days or less. There’s usually a clear arc of symptoms, first getting worse then getting better. You may have a runny nose for 2 to 3 days, then a stuffy nose and then you feel better.

Sinus infections don’t usually go away so quickly. Symptoms can last for more than a week and tend to get worse rather than better as the days go along.

Facial pain and pressure increases.

You may get a headache with a cold that’s caused by nasal congestion, but the pain you’ll feel with a sinus infection is usually worse. Because of where your sinus cavities are located, an infection can bring significant pressure or pain around and behind your eyes, cheekbones and forehead.

Color of nasal discharge may be darker, not clear.

Have you ever gone to your doctor and she asks “When you blow your nose, what color do you see in the tissue?” The reason for this question is that colds tend to produce clear mucus, while a hallmark of sinus infections is yellow or green mucus. A virus (a cold is a virus) can also cause mucus to be yellow or green, so it’s not a definitive test, just a potential clue to what is wrong.

Fever can be a sign of infection.

Colds usually do not bring on fevers, but again, this isn’t a surefire thing. Sinus infections typically do cause at least a low-grade fever and the flu comes with a fever as well. A fever is a sign your body is fighting off bacteria or a virus, so the best thing you can do is pay attention and call your doctor if the fever rises.

You can also use over-the-counter medications like BC® Cough & Cold multi-symptom relief powder or BC® Sinus Pain & Congestion powder to help relieve your cold or sinus infection symptoms. Both come in on-the-go, sealed stick packs, which make it easy to take with you or keep at your workstation at your job for fast relief anywhere you need it.

Be sure to talk to your doctor about any medications you take, especially if you have other health conditions.