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  • Writer's pictureDr. Koralla Raja Meghanadh

Sinusitis vs Cold: How do you tell the difference?

Updated: May 13

Sinusitis vs Cold: How do you tell the difference?


The cold, also known as rhinitis, occurs when a viral infection affects the upper respiratory system, like the nose and throat. It is one of the most common infections in humans. Most cold cases are mild and resolve on their own within a week.



On the other hand, sinusitis is the inflammation or swelling of the sinus walls. The sinuses are air-filled cavities in the skull around the nose and eyes. When the sinuses are blocked and fluids stagnate, bacteria, viruses, or fungi can grow and cause an infection - the symptoms of sinusitis usually last more than seven days.


How can a Cold Trigger a Sinus Infection?

Most sinusitis cases begin as simple viral infections, such as a cold, which usually resolves within 5 to 7 days. However, when individuals with underlying conditions, such as low immunity, allergies, or anomalies in the sinus drainage pathway, experience a cold, this simple cold can trigger fluid stagnation. This stagnated fluid will become a breeding environment for the bacteria or fungi to thrive and cause infection in the sinus lining, leading to sinusitis.


How do you know if it's a Cold or Sinusitis?

The progression from a cold to sinusitis can be confusing due to the similarities in symptoms. In sinusitis, the symptoms are more severe and persist for more than seven days, while in the cold, the symptoms are less severe and usually last for 5-7 days. The worsening of the cold symptoms instead of the down trend, indicates the progression of infection from nose to sinuses, i.e., the rhinitis(cold) is turning into sinusitis.

So, the thumb rule is if cold symptoms exist for over a week, you can assume that the cold has triggered a sinus infection.


  1. Nasal discharge or a runny nose

  2. Nasal blockage or congestion

  3. Headaches

  4. Facial pain

  5. A sensation of phlegm dripping from the back of the nose to the throat, and a frequent need to clear the throat

  6. Frequent sore throat and throat pain

  7. Frequent attacks of cough

To further understand how these symptoms progress and the life cycle of a sinus infection. We strongly recommend you to read our article title - "Stages of Sinusitis"



Even though, in most cases, these infections can be resolved independently, it is recommended to consult a doctor to avoid complications and progression of the disease. Along with the treatment the doctor prescribes, incorporating some home remedies can speed up the recovery process.


It is important to note that if we take treatment for colds, the likelihood of them turning into sinusitis is much less.


Home Remedies

Here are a few home remedies that can be effective in managing these conditions:

  1. Steam inhalation

  2. Incorporate some exercise into your routine

  3. Proper hydration

  4. Adequate sleep

  5. Boost your immunity


Check out our article for more details about home remedies.


In conclusion, differentiating between a common cold and sinusitis is crucial for effective management. While both conditions share common symptoms, understanding the duration and severity of symptoms is critical to determining the nature of the infection, especially for individuals with underlying conditions. If someone experiences persistent or worsening symptoms, seeking medical attention for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment is advisable.

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