Sinusitis: When Your Symptoms Aren’t Just a Common Cold

Jun 08, 2023
Sinusitis: When Your Symptoms Aren’t Just a Common Cold
Do you have sinus congestion? A cough? Headache? It’s easy to confuse these symptoms with the common cold, but you could really have a sinus infection. Take a moment to learn how these issues differ and when it’s time to see an expert.

Seemingly nothing can knock you off your feet faster than sinus trouble, especially when it comes with severe head congestion and a runny nose. 

Most of the time, people assume these symptoms are due to the common cold. After all, over 200 viruses can cause colds, which makes them an incredibly common problem. However, colds aren’t the only cause of sinus issues. 

Sinusitis, sometimes called a sinus infection, is also a common culprit behind sinus symptoms. But this illness is often confused with the common cold, so how can you tell them apart?

Our experts at Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology Associates specialize in conditions that involve the sinuses and repeated infections, like sinusitis.

Do you think you have a bad cold? Here are signs it could be something more. 

Cold versus sinusitis symptoms

A common cold usually comes from a virus within a specific family known as rhinoviruses. When illness sets in, symptoms often include:

However, when you develop sinusitis, a virus or bacteria causes an infection in your sinuses, the air-filled spaces in your skull between your eyes and behind your forehead, cheeks, and knows. 

Sinuses have a delicate lining that produces mucus to catch pollutants, like germs, and tiny hairlike structures known as cilia that sweep the mucus out of your sinuses and into your nose.


If you develop a sinus infection, these membranes can become inflamed and swollen, which keeps mucus from draining. The resulting sinus infections often include additional symptoms, like pain and pressure in the sinus areas and upper teeth. 

It’s also common to have a thick discharge that’s green or yellow in appearance, and even bad breath.

Duration of symptoms

In addition to their differing symptoms, their duration can reveal whether you have a cold or sinusitis.

In most cases, you can expect symptoms caused by a virus to start improving within 3-5 days, with a full recovery in 5-7 days. Conversely, infections caused by bacteria often last more than 10 days and could require antibiotics.

If you notice your symptoms start to improve after a few days, only to intensify again, it’s also a good sign you actually have sinusitis — not a common cold. When you have sinusitis, the infection can stay in the body for at least four weeks and even longer than three months.

You can also develop sinusitis after having a common cold. However, if you have chronic problems with sinusitis, it could also be due to hay fever, nasal polyps, a deviated septum, or other medical issues.

Treating sinusitis

When you experience acute sinusitis symptoms — like those confused with the common cold — they often go away on their own with appropriate self-care. Examples include flushing excess mucus from the body with saline sprays or taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications.

However, if your symptoms don’t respond to these approaches or you have chronic problems with your sinuses, our team could suggest additional interventions, such as:

  • Antibiotics
  • Corticosteroids
  • Allergy medications
  • Immunotherapies

If underlying conditions like nasal polyps or a deviated septum are to blame for your persistent sinus issues, we could recommend surgical solutions.

Not sure if you have a bad cold or sinusitis? Contact Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology Associates to schedule a consultation at our offices in South Tampa, Carrollwood, or Brandon, Florida, today.