How to Tell if You Have a Sinus Infection

May 7th 2016

While cold symptoms usually resolve on their own as the virus works its way out of the body, sinus infections often require treatment with antibiotics or steroidal nasal sprays. If you're suffering from uncomfortable sinus symptoms following a recent cold or bout with seasonal allergies, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Facial Pain

While mild discomfort in the nasal area is common with cold and flu viruses, sinus infections often cause pain in the cheeks and in the upper teeth above the jaw. Individuals with sinus infections may also experience pain directly below the eyes that may be accompanied by dark circles, commonly referred to as "allergic shiners." A feeling of fullness or pain in the ears is also a frequent symptom.

Discolored Nasal Discharge

While increased nasal discharge is a common symptom for colds, allergies and sinus infections, nasal secretions that accompany colds and allergies tend to be clear to white in color and thin in consistency. Nasal discharge that accompanies sinus infections is thick, with a yellow to green tinge. Additionally, colds typically cause the nose to run, while the secretions caused by sinus infections often remain inside the nasal passages and cause severe congestion.

Sinus Cough

Coughing often goes along with colds and allergies, but sinus coughs differ in that the symptoms are caused by postnasal drip that travels into the throat from the sinuses. Sinus coughs tend to be worse when you are lying down. Individuals with sinus coughs may also experience sore throat symptoms that begin as a mild tickle and gradually worsen. This is due to the buildup of postnasal drip on the throat tissue coupled with excessive coughing.

Severe Headache

While headaches can accompany both colds and flu, sinus infection headaches generally occur in the center of the forehead and tend to worsen when moving the head from side to side or bending over. Temperature drops from warm to cold can also worsen the pain. Pain from sinus headaches tends to peak upon waking due to the accumulation of sinus fluids overnight.


Sinus infections occur when bacteria develop inside the nasal passages and begin to multiply. The infections can be triggered by severe allergies and often develop as secondary complications of cold and flu viruses. Sinus infection symptoms and cold symptoms are similar in nature, so it can be difficult to distinguish between the two. However, sinus infection symptoms tend to be longer-lasting and more severe than those of the common cold. Understanding the subtle differences between cold and sinus infection symptoms can help to ensure that sufferers obtain the right treatments for their conditions and avoid further complications.

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