Sinus Infection vs. Cold: Symptoms & Treatment Options

When we have frequent nasal congestion, runny noses, sneezing fits, and itchy, red, watery eyes, the common dilemma arises:   Is it a sinus infection vs. a cold?  How do I treat either?

Sinus Infection vs. Cold:  Differences
The “common cold” refers to an infection caused by germs like viruses affecting the upper respiratory passages.  It causes inflammation of the tissues inside the nose and surrounding areas (Infectious Rhinitis).  It usually begins with nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing.  The nasal secretions are usually clear to start with but can turn into light yellow after a few days.  One can also have a sore throat, cough, and mild fever.  Most symptoms usually subside after about a week without any treatment, though the cough can linger for a few weeks.  This condition is more frequent in winter months and common in children who attend daycare and preschool, due to repeated exposure to viruses.  Adults usually get less frequent “colds” because their more mature immune systems can resist and fight more effectively.

“Allergic Rhinitis,” on the other hand, is the inflammation of the nose and eyes (conjunctivitis) caused by exposure to allergens like dust mites, animal dander, mold spores and various pollens in a susceptible individual.  The symptoms of a sinus infection are somewhat similar to “common colds,” but itching can be more prominent and fever is usually not present.  One important differentiating feature is that the symptoms usually do not remit after a few days but can persist either throughout a particular season or throughout the year depending on the specific triggering agents.  In more severe cases, the condition can have a substantial impact on the quality of life and productivity.  Allergic sensitivity can also play a role in the causation of repeated ear infections and contribute to lower airway disorders like asthma.

Sinus Infection vs. Cold:  Similarities
Both Infectious and Allergic rhinitis can also lead to a “sinus infection or sinusitis” where the lining and tissues inside the sinuses (hollow cavities inside the facial bones) are inflamed.  This can result in facial pressure and/or pain, headache, fatigue, fever, discolored secretions, persistent post nasal drip or drainage, sore throat, and cough.  The condition can be caused either by viruses (which do not need antibiotics) or less frequently by bacteria, especially if the symptoms last for several weeks.

Allergic Rhinitis and Allergic Conjunctivitis, not relieved by simple over the counter (OTC) remedies, require thorough evaluation and management by qualified allergists, who can offer long lasting symptom relief, prevent complications, and improve the quality of life in these individuals.  If you have any additional sinus infection vs. cold questions, please contact the allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy.