3 Early Symptoms of a Sinus Infection

May 7th 2016

If you're not sure whether you have a cold or a sinus infection, look for the symptoms that are mostly unique to a sinus infection, such as green mucus or sputum, sinus headaches and bad breath. If your symptoms continue after a week or so, see your doctor, who may be able to take a mucus culture and determine the cause of the sinus infection. A bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics, and a fungal infection must be treated with antifungals. A sinus infection that continues for more than two months is classified as a chronic sinus infection and requires further medical care.

Nasal Discharge

One of the key early signs of a sinus infection is a runny or stuffy nose; sometimes the two symptoms alternate. Because these are also primary symptoms of the common cold, it can be hard to tell the difference between the two ailments initially. A sinus infection, however, is almost always accompanied by mucus that's yellow, greenish yellow or even dark green. Sometimes the nasal discharge doesn't come out of the nose but instead heads straight from the sinuses down the back of the throat in what is known as postnasal drip. Postnasal drip can cause a nasty irritation to the throat, often resulting in a cough that doesn't go away. If you find yourself coughing up green sputum, chances are it's the result of postnasal drip.

Headache and Sinus Pressure

A sinus infection is often accompanied by pressure from within the sinuses as they fill up with fluid and mucus. While most people think of the sinuses as sitting behind the nose, people have three sets of sinus cavities that sit behind their cheeks, eyes and forehead. Sinus pressure, therefore, can sometimes manifest as a headache. A sinus-related headache is regularly in the front of the head; if the headache is farther back, it can't be attributed to the sinuses. Sinus pressure sometimes also makes the face feel very tender, especially around the nose or behind the eyes.

Other Symptoms

While sinusitis often starts out looking just like a cold, after about a week, when symptoms don't go away, it's often clear that more is going on. One of the non-cold symptoms often associated with a sinus infection is bad breath. Depending on the cause of the sinusitis, it can also be accompanied by a fever along with fatigue.


You may have experienced cold symptoms such as a stuffy nose and sneezing for several days, then found yourself wondering if maybe you don't have a cold after all. Maybe you have a sinus infection. If so, you're not alone. Thirty-one million people suffer from a sinus infection each year in the United States, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Sinusitis can result from infection by bacteria, a virus or a fungus or even from allergies, but it typically manifests with the same early symptoms.

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