Sinus Infection vs Covid-19: What’s The Difference

women-affected-from-covid-and-cough
Medically reviewed by Dr. Ola Tarabzuni

Overview

Sinus infections and COVID-19 are respiratory conditions that can cause similar symptoms, leading to confusion and concern. But it is imperative to understand the critical differences between these two conditions to ensure proper diagnosis, treatment, and appropriate public health measures. This article gives you an overview of sinus infections and COVID-19, highlighting their distinctive features and helping you differentiate between them.

What is COVID-19?

2019’s Coronavirus Disease is referred to as COVID-19. The primary cause of the sickness is the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). In December 2019, the COVID-19 virus was first identified in Wuhan, China, and has since spread to other parts of the world. Due to the pandemic, The general populace is more knowledgeable about COVID-19 symptoms. Even while you might have a fever, headache, and cough if you have COVID, you can also experience these and other respiratory symptoms if you have another infection or medical condition.

Differentiating between a sinus cough vs COVID cough is crucial in determining the cause of respiratory symptoms, as the sinus cough is typically associated with nasal congestion. In contrast, the COVID cough is characterized by a dry and persistent cough accompanied by other symptoms.

When an infected individual talk, sneezes, coughs or breathes, respiratory droplets are the primary way the virus spreads. Although it is thought to be a less frequent method of transmission, it can also spread by touch and contact with infected surfaces and then touching the face. The COVID-19 infection can cause mild to severe respiratory symptoms in infected individuals and asymptomatic (no symptoms) individuals.

What is Sinus Infection?

Sinusitis, another name for sinus infection, describes an infection or inflammation of the sinuses. The facial bones in the forehead, cheeks, and behind the nose contain air-filled cavities called sinuses. Their mucous membrane lining secretes mucus to add moisture to our air.

Sinusitis can happen when the sinuses become infected or inflamed, typically due to a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection. Numerous things, including allergies, colds, nasal polyps, or a deviated septum, might cause this.

Sinus infections can be acute or chronic.

Acute sinusitis typically lasts for a short period, usually a few weeks, and is often associated with symptoms such as facial pain, pressure, head congestion and nasal congestion, thick nasal discharge, coughing, fatigue, and a reduced sense of smell. In some cases, fever and dental pain may also occur.

Chronic sinusitis is inflammation lasting more than 12 weeks, despite treatment attempts. It shares similar symptoms with acute sinusitis but can be more persistent or recurring. Chronic sinusitis can significantly impact a person’s quality of life and may require more comprehensive treatment approaches.

Symptoms

Some symptoms of COVID-19 and sinus infections are similar. But there are also significant variations. In some conditions than others, some symptoms are more prevalent. For instance, COVID-19 is more likely to cause breathing problems and shortness of breath, whereas sinus infections are more likely to cause facial pain.

The lists of COVID-19 or sinus infection symptoms that follow are only a starting point and do not cover all potential signs. 

Consult our doctors if you experience any symptoms that could be linked to COVID-19.

Symptoms of Sinus Infection

When the lining of the human body’s sinuses becomes inflamed, he has a sinus infection (sinusitis). The result is an accumulation of mucus. Congestion and pressure or pain in your face, nose, or ears are two primary signs of sinus infections.

Other sinus infection symptoms can include a wide range, although they typically affect the respiratory system.

Potential sinus infection warning signs and symptoms include

Facial Pain and Pressure

You might feel pressure and pain in your forehead, cheeks, or around your eyes. It can be like a heavy or achy feeling in these areas, similar to having a headache. 

Nasal Congestion

Breathing via your nose may seem congested or obstructed, making it challenging. It’s like constantly having a stuffy nose that won’t go away. This stuffy nose and clogged ears, cause discomfort and affect one’s ability to breathe and hear properly.

Thick Nasal Discharge

You may notice a thick, yellow or greenish mucus from your nose. It might be more goopy or sticky than usual. Sometimes, it can even drip down the back of your throat, making you feel like you have to clear your throat often.

Cough

A sinus infection can cause a cough that may be worse at night. It is generally a dry cough or a cough that produces phlegm or mucus.

Headache

You might experience a headache, often related to the pressure and inflammation in your sinuses. It can feel like a dull or throbbing ache in the forehead or surrounding area of the eyes.

Fatigue

Sinus infections can make you feel tired and lacking energy. It’s like feeling exhausted even when you haven’t done much.

Facial Tenderness

The areas around your sinuses may feel sensitive to touch. When you press on your forehead or cheeks, they might be tender or sore.

Toothache

Sometimes, a sinus infection can cause a toothache or make your upper teeth feel sensitive. The sinuses are close to your upper teeth, and the pain can be felt there.

Sore Throat

Your throat may get itchy and irritated if your sinus mucus drips down the back of it. It might irritate your throat or give you a persistent tickle.

Fever

In some cases, mainly if bacteria cause the sinus infection, you may have a low-grade fever. This means your body temperature is slightly higher than usual.

What are the main symptoms of Covid-19? Consult a Doctor Now

Consult a doctor now if you are experiencing sinusitis.

Symptoms of Covid-19

Individuals with COVID-19 may suffer moderate symptoms or show no signs at all, which might vary from person to person. However, here are the common symptoms associated with COVID-19:

Fever

Many people with COVID-19 develop a fever, usually at 100.4°F (38°C) or higher.

Cough

One of COVID-19’s typical symptoms is a dry cough. It can go on forever and be worse than a usual cough.

Shortness of Breath or Difficulty Breathing

Some individuals with COVID-19 may experience breathing difficulties, such as feeling breathless or having rapid breathing.

Fatigue

Feeling tired or experiencing extreme exhaustion is a common symptom reported by people with COVID-19.

Muscle or Body Aches

You may experience muscle pain, body aches, or general discomfort.

Headache

Many individuals with COVID-19 develop a headache ranging from mild to severe.

Sore Throat

Some people may experience a sore throat and nasal drainage from COVID. They may also complain of irritation in the throat.

Loss of Taste or Smell

An unusual symptom of COVID-19 is a sudden loss of taste and smell. It can occur without congestion or a stuffy nose.

Congestion or Runny Nose

While less common, some individuals may experience nasal congestion or a runny nose and may complain of head congestion and COVID. Rarely sinus pressure and tooth pain are associated with covid.

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Some people may experience symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

It’s crucial to remember that other diseases can also bring on these symptoms and that some COVID-19-infected people may not even exhibit any symptoms. Additional symptoms could also appear as more study on the virus is done.

Does the new COVID-19 feel like a sinus infection? Ask a Doctor

For easy and better understanding, here’s a table comparing sinusitis vs covid symptoms. Both sinus infections and COVID-19 can have overlapping symptoms, but certain symptoms like new loss of taste or smell are more strongly associated with COVID-19. 

SymptomSinus InfectionCOVID-19
Bad breath
Body aches
Chills
Congestion
Cough
Diarrhea
Difficulty breathing
Earache
Facial pain
Fatigue
Fever
Headache
Nausea
New loss of taste/smell
Post-nasal drip
Runny nose
Shortness of breath
Sore throat
Swelling around eyes
Vomiting
sinus vs Covid-19 symptoms comparision

Causes

While COVID and sinus infections have some of the same symptoms, their causes are entirely distinct.

Sinus Infection Causes

Viral Infections

Viruses like the common cold or flu bring on most sinus infections.

Bacterial Infections

Bacteria can occasionally cause a secondary infection that follows a viral illness.

Fungal Infections

Sinus infections caused by fungi are uncommon and typically affect patients with compromised immune systems or certain medical disorders.

Allergies

Allergic reactions to substances like pollen, dust mites, or pet dander can trigger inflammation in the sinuses and lead to a sinus infection.

Nasal Abnormalities

Nasal structural issues, including a deviated septum or nasal polyps, can block the sinuses and cause sinusitis.

Covid-19 Causes

A specific virus causes COVID-19 called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It primarily spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or breathes out. The nose, mouth, or eyes can all be entry points for the infection. It can spread from person to person, particularly in close quarters or crowded indoor settings. It may also apply if someone touches something contaminated with the virus before touching their face.

Remember that COVID-19 is highly contagious and can present with symptoms from mild to severe or even go unreported in some circumstances. In contrast to other body systems and organs, the respiratory system is highly susceptible to the virus’s effects.

When should you see a doctor about a sinus infection? See an Online Doctor

Diagnosis

To ascertain if you have a sinus infection, COVID, or some other condition, your doctor can run some tests to check the source of your respiratory symptoms.

Sinus Infection Diagnosis

Your symptoms and a nose-and-face examination are used to diagnose a sinus infection. Your doctor might examine your mucus or run an imaging test to confirm the diagnosis.

COVID-19 Diagnosis

There are various COVID test varieties available. Depending on circumstances, including your symptoms and if you are well aware of having been exposed to the virus, your doctor will decide which course of action is best. 

The diagnosis of COVID-19 involves the following approaches:

COVID-19 Testing

The most common diagnostic method is the COVID-19 test, which includes two primary types:

  • Molecular Tests (PCR). These tests find the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ genetic material (RNA). To check out if the virus is present, a swab is obtained from the nose or throat and examined in a lab.
  • Antigen Tests. These tests detect specific proteins (antigens) of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Like molecular tests, a swab sample is collected and analyzed, providing faster results but slightly lower sensitivity.

Symptoms Assessment

The healthcare provider will inquire about your symptoms, e.g. fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of taste or smell, and other associated symptoms.

Exposure History

Information regarding potential exposure to individuals with confirmed COVID-19 or travel to high-risk areas will be evaluated.

Medical Evaluation

Additionally, a physical examination may be conducted to check for signs of respiratory distress or other COVID-19-related symptoms.

Get investigated for respiratory tract infection now.

Treatments

Treatments for COVID and sinus infections are significantly dissimilar. A medical practitioner must diagnose accurately to ensure you receive the proper care.

Sinus Infection Treatment

A sinus infection may be treated in some ways. The exact cause of the disease obviously will determine the best course of therapy for you.

For instance, if allergies cause your sinus infection, your doctor can prescribe an allergy medication.

The following are some popular sinus infection treatments:

  • Decongestant medicines
  • Nasal irrigation (e.g., neti pot)
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers (to relieve aches and fever)
  • Saline nasal spray
  • Allergy medication (if allergies are a cause)

Antibiotics

According to the CDC, antibiotics are typically not required for viral sinus infections.

Your doctor may use a “watchful waiting” approach to determine whether your immune system can effectively combat the illness. They might also use a practice known as “delayed prescribing” they write you an antibiotic prescription but advise you to wait for a few days before taking it to check if the illness has already cleared up.

Doctors aim to avoid prescribing antibiotics unless necessary to stop the spread of bacteria that are resistant to them.

COVID-19 Treatment

Combinations of pharmaceuticals already licensed to treat COVID-19 and brand-new therapies with COVID-19 emergency-use authorizations and drugs for which COVID-19 is an off-label use used as treatments.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized three medications to treat COVID-19 as of May 2023:

  • Veklury (redeliver), an antiviral drug for adults and children
  • Olumiant (baricitinib) is an immune modulator for confident hospitalized adults
  • Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir), an antiviral drug, for adults

The FDA has granted emergency-use authorizations to a handful of medications that still need to complete the formal FDA-approval process. These include:

  • Lagevrio (molnupiravir), i.e. an oral antiviral medication for people with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 cases and are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19, including hospitalization and death5

The best way to treat COVID-19 depends on how sick a person is. For example, someone with a mild case can generally treat their symptoms at home. People with severe COVID illness usually need to be in the hospital, and some need to be in the intensive care unit (ICU).

Another factor inappropriate for treatment is a person’s risk factors for severe disease. If they have mild to moderate illness and can stay home but have specific medical comorbidities, antiviral treatment may be offered.

You can treat a minor COVID infection at home using the following methods:

Resting

Taking medicine to lower fever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen

Keeping hydrated (by consuming lots of water or, if necessary, taking intravenous fluids)

If you have COVID and are hospitalized, you can receive the following:

Antibiotics for Viruses

Medications for treating side effects, such as blood thinners for treating blood clots

Treatments to support the body’s immune system and lessen an excessive immune response

How do you get rid of COVID-19 and sinus pain? Speak with a Doctor

Prevention Methods

You can take a few steps to stave off sinus infections and safeguard yourself against the COVID-19 virus. You may take some actions to lessen your risk of developing either ailment, but each also has particular measures that can help.

Sinus Infection

While it’s not always possible to prevent sinus infections, specific measures may help reduce the risk or frequency of occurrence. Here are some prevention methods:

Maintain Good Hygiene

  • Regularly washing your hands or sanitizing is advised, especially before touching your face or nose.
  • Stay away from those who are contagious with respiratory infections.

Manage Allergies

If you have known allergies, take steps to manage them effectively, such as avoiding allergens, using allergy medications as prescribed, or considering allergy shots (immunotherapy) under the guidance of an allergist.

Keep nasal passages moist.

  • Use a humidifier, especially in dry places or during the winter.
  • Use saline sprays or rinses to moisten the nasal passages and help with mucus clearance.

Avoid Irritants

Minimize exposure to environmental irritants, such as cigarette smoke, chemical fumes, and strong odours, which can trigger sinus inflammation.

Practice Nasal Irrigation

Regularly rinse your nasal passages with saline solutions to help flush out mucus and hence reduce the risk of infection.

Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of liquids to stay hydrated, as this thins mucus and additionally encourages healthy sinus outflow.

Covid-19

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 involves following recommended guidelines from health authorities. Here are some essential prevention methods:

Vaccination

Get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as eligible. Vaccines have shown effectiveness in preventing severe illness and hospitalization and reducing the spread of the virus.

Good Hygiene Practices

  • Wash hands regularly and properly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap is unavailable, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your face, particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth, as the virus can enter the body through these areas.

Wear Masks

  • Wear masks or face coverings in public settings, mainly when social distancing is not possible or when required by local guidelines.
  • Always use masks that cover your nose and mouth adequately, and follow recommended mask-wearing practices.

Practice Physical Distancing

A distance of a minimum of 6 feet  (2 meters) from others is recommended, especially in crowded places or when interacting with individuals outside your household.

Ventilation

Ensure proper ventilation in indoor spaces by opening windows or using air purifiers to improve air circulation and reduce the concentration of airborne particles significantly.

Follow travel and gathering guidelines:

  • Adhere to travel restrictions and guidelines provided by health authorities to reduce the risk of exposure and transmission.
  • Limit gatherings and events to smaller groups and additionally follow local regulations and recommendations.

Summary

Sinus infections (sinusitis) and COVID-19 are distinct conditions with different causes, symptoms, diagnostic approaches, and treatments.

Viral or bacterial infections, allergies, or nasal abnormalities especially trigger sinus infections. They can be diagnosed through medical history, physical examination, and additionally imaging studies. Treatment options include self-care measures, such as nasal irrigation, warm compresses, and medications for pain relief, decongestion, and inflammation. Antibiotics like augmentin may occasionally be recommended for bacterial sinus infections.

Contrarily, the SARS-CoV-2 virus brings on COVID-19 and is largely transmitted by respiratory droplets. It presents various symptoms and can be diagnosed through COVID-19 testing, symptom assessment, and medical evaluation. Management involves self-isolation, supportive care to alleviate symptoms, and medical interventions for severe cases, such as oxygen therapy or hospitalization. Antiviral medications may be utilized in specific circumstances.

Prevention measures for sinus infections, e.g. practicing good hygiene, managing allergies, keeping nasal passages moist, and avoiding irritants, help alleviate symptoms. Preventing the spread of COVID-19 involves vaccination, adhering to proper hand hygiene, wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, ensuring adequate ventilation, and following travel and gathering guidelines.

To get correct information, proper diagnoses, efficient treatments, and the best prevention plans for sinus infections and COVID-19, consult credible sources, seek professional medical counsel, and remain up to speed with official health recommendations.

FAQs

Are you contagious with a sinus infection? 

Sinus infections are generally not contagious. Viruses or bacteria most commonly cause them in your body or the environment. However, if the sinus infection is caused by a contagious virus, such as the common cold, you may still be contagious while experiencing symptoms like coughing or sneezing.

Do I need antibiotics for a sinus infection?

Not all sinus infections require antibiotics. Sinusitis caused by a viral infection indeed resolves within a week or two. Antibiotics are only necessary if the sinus infection is bacterial or if it persists and becomes significantly chronic.

Does the new COVID variant feel like a sinus infection?

The new COVID-19 variants can vary, but they can include symptoms similar to a sinus infection, such as nasal congestion, runny nose, headache, or sore throat. However, it’s important to note that COVID-19 can also cause many other symptoms, including fever, cough, loss of taste or smell, fatigue, and difficulty breathing.

What can be mistaken for a sinus infection?

Several conditions can mimic sinus infection symptoms, including allergies, the common cold, the flu, dental problems, migraines, and even tension headaches hence identifying the difference between these conditions based solely on symptoms may be challenging. A medical professional can diagnose properly by evaluating your symptoms and medical history and conducting any necessary tests.

What colour is mucus with COVID?

Mucus colour alone is not a reliable indicator of COVID-19. The colour of the mucus can vary depending on factors like hydration, medications, or other respiratory infections. In COVID-19, mucus can range from clear to yellow or green, but it can also remain clear. The diagnosis of COVID-19 is typically confirmed through testing rather than relying on mucus colour.

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