Do I Have COVID or a Sinus Infection?

Although some of the symptoms are shared, there are several distinct ways to tell if you have covid or a sinus infection. 

It’s human nature to sometimes think the worst if you experience any symptoms in today’s environment; but in fact, the common cold, influenza, allergies, and sinus infections share some of the same symptoms as the COVID-19. 

Here’s how you can tell the difference and when you should consider seeking medical help.

Is It COVID Or a Sinus Infection?

The COVID pandemic has killed more than one million people around the globe. With the fall ushering in traditional influenza season, medical professionals express concern that the outbreaks will continue for the foreseeable future. Protecting yourself is of the utmost importance. One way to do this is to understand the differences between COVID-19 and the common sinus infection.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms for COVID-19 appear two to 14-days after you’ve been exposed to the virus. The symptoms could be mild or severe depending on factors that we’re still trying to understand. They may include:

  • Body aches
  • Congestion or a runny nose
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Fever or chills
  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Nausea or vomiting

The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) reports that sinus infections, or sinusitis, occurs in 31 million Americans each year. The U.S. spends about $1 billion treating these infections with over-the-counter medications and another $150 million on prescription medications. They say the most common symptoms of a sinus infection include:

  • Bad breath
  • Cough
  • Congested stuffy nose
  • Discolored discharge from your nose
  • Facial tenderness
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Frontal headache
  • Postnasal drip
  • Tooth pain

Craig P. Chase, M.D., a partner of Oviedo Medical Research, says, “For sinus infections versus COVID-19, sinus infections are usually something that you’ve had for a while. It could start with allergies, it could start with a cold, and then kind of evolve into a sinus infection.”

What Causes a Sinus Infection?

 Sinus infections are more common in people who suffer from seasonal allergies or asthma. If you have a structural blockage in the nose, such as a deviated septum or nasal polyps, you may have more frequent sinus infections. If you have a weakened immune system, you may be more prone to infections of all kinds, including sinusitis. 

While the common cold and flu are caused by the influenza virus, and COVID-19 is caused by the coronavirus, a sinus infection can stem from a viral or bacterial infection. Either way, it’s a painful condition that can make you feel lousy for weeks. 

Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinuses, those air-filled pockets that exist in your face:

  • Behind the bridge of your nose
  • Directly in front of your brain
  • In the bony structures of your cheeks
  • On both sides of the bridge of your nose

Normally, your sinuses are lined with a light layer of mucus that trap germs, dust, and other particles that we breathe. There are tiny hairs in your nose that sweep whatever is captured into the back of your throat and into your stomach. This is a normal cyclic procedure that happens without your awareness. That is, until something goes wrong with the process.

A sinus infection inflames the lining of the sinuses and blocks the flow of mucus to the back of the throat. The swelling stops up this efficient elimination system leading potentially to an infection. 

How Would Doctors Diagnose a Sinus Infection vs. COVID?

The determination as to whether you have COVID or a sinus infection should be made by a doctor. If the doctor suspects COVID-19, he or she will test you for the virus by swabbing your sinus cavity and sending the sample to a lab.

When doctors suspect a sinus infection, they look inside the nose for redness and swelling and will ask you about the color and frequency of your nasal discharge. They will check to see if your face is tender and ask you questions about how long you’ve been suffering from the illness. 

Dr. Chase suggest there are three primary criteria that indicate a sinus infection:

“We don’t usually diagnose a sinus infection until somebody has been sick for seven to 10 days. Typically, with that you’re going to have the classic tenderness in your sinuses,” he says. “Usually you’re going to have a yellow/green runny nose that’s pretty consistent throughout the day, and you’re going to have a fever. You want to see those three things before you diagnose somebody with a sinus infection.”

With COVID-19, the duration of the illness is different, along with the sinus tenderness, and discharge. If you’re worried about your symptoms and are suffering from pain, fever, headaches, or any other clinical symptoms, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor. 

How Do Doctors Treat Sinus Infections?

One the diagnosis is made, the typical treatment for sinus infection is antibiotics to clear up the bacteria causing the sinus infection. Although, the overuse of antibiotics is a cause for concern, so many doctors will prescribe these medications if your symptoms extend beyond seven to 10 days. 

Your doctor may also prescribe a topical nasal corticosteroid to reverse the swelling in the sinuses. Finally, over-the-counter medications to help you cope with the daily symptoms of a sinus infection while the medications begin to do their work. 

Some of the typical over-the-counter symptom relievers include:

  • Antihistamines can block the inflammation that swells your sinus passages
  • Nasal decongestant sprays can be used on a limited basis
  • Nasal saline washes can clear out heavy mucus
  • Topical nasal corticosteroids 

Sinus infections can last for several weeks, or if they are chronic, for even longer. If you’re feeling ill, it’s a good idea to reach out to your doctor for treatment. Your clinical team can diagnose, and treat your illness to make you more comfortable and help you heal.Oviedo Medical Research specializes in Phase II through IV clinical trials designed to yield the medications and vaccines that doctors depend on. If you’re interested in joining us for a clinical trial, contact us.