Sinus Infection Symptoms vs. COVID: How Can I Tell the Difference?


A woman feeling sick
Summary
  • Sinus infections and COVID-19 are two different respiratory conditions with overlapping symptoms that can make them difficult to tell apart.

  • While there have been millions of COVID-19 fatalities across the world since the pandemic began, it’s very rare that people die from sinus infection complications.

  • Washing your hands and avoiding contact with people who are sick can prevent you from being infected, too.

  • Most people will recover from sinusitis and COVID-19 and only require symptomatic treatment, but others may need medical treatment or hospitalization.

According to data obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sinusitis is a common condition, with almost 29 million U.S. adults being diagnosed with it in 2018.

To date, almost 90 million people in the U.S. had COVID-19, with the virus having claimed over 1 million lives.

While there may be some overlap between sinus infection symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms, the two conditions are quite different.

Only in rare cases is sinusitis ever fatal, but COVID-19 has claimed the lives of over 6 million people worldwide. It is therefore essential to know the difference between a sinus infection and COVID-19.

In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between COVID-19 and sinus infections, including their symptoms, treatments, and preventative measures.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19, also known as coronavirus disease, is a highly infectious disease spread through respiratory droplets.

The disease is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that can be spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, or breathes.

Symptoms of this respiratory illness can be mild to severe. Certain chronic conditions, like diabetes, make individuals more prone to severe symptoms.

While some people display mild symptoms of COVID-19 ( if any at all), others may require hospitalization.

All across the world, most people who’ve contracted the virus have recovered.

What is a Sinus Infection?

A sinus infection, which is also called sinusitis or rhinosinusitis, is caused by inflamed sinus cavities that become filled with fluid due to a blockage.

Allergies and colds that cause nasal congestion are typically the causes of sinusitis.

A buildup of fluid in the sinuses can cause germs to grow, resulting in an infection.

Sinus infections tend to be viral, but they may also be bacterial infections. Viral infections typically clear sooner than bacterial infections, which can last for 10 days or longer.

Key Point: What is Chronic Sinusitis?

If your sinus infection persists for three months or longer, your condition is regarded as chronic.

You should visit your doctor if you have recurrent sinusitis that doesn’t respond to treatment.

What's the Difference Between a Sinus Infection and COVID-19?

Given the symptom overlap between sinus infections and COVID-19, it can be tricky to determine which one you have.

Being able to tell the difference between sinusitis and COVID-19 can help you get the correct treatment and recover faster.

The table below outlines some of the differences between the two respiratory conditions:

Symptoms

Sinus Infection

COVID-19

Nasal congestion

Yes

Yes

Cough

Yes

Yes

Fatigue

Yes

Yes

Headache

Yes

Yes

Sore throat

Yes

Yes

Runny nose

Yes

Yes

Sneezing

Yes

No

Discolored nasal drainage

Yes

No

Foul nasal odor

Yes

No

Facial pain or facial pressure

Yes

No

Loss of smell and taste

Sometimes

Yes

Vomiting or nausea

No

Yes

Shortness of breath

No

Yes

Breathing difficulties

No

Yes

Bad breath

Yes

No

Postnasal drip

Yes

No

Chest Pain

No

Yes

Body aches

No

Yes

From the table, it should be clear where there are overlapping symptoms.

It’s also important to note that certain COVID-19 symptoms are typical of specific coronavirus variants, while others are not. For example, loss of smell is more common in the Delta variant than in the Omicron variant.

If you’re someone who regularly gets sinus infections and you’re suddenly experiencing more respiratory symptoms, you may have COVID-19. The only way to know for sure is to take a Covid test.

Key Point: What are Some Uncommon Symptoms of COVID-19?

If you experience any of the more uncommon symptoms, you may overlook them. Some rare symptoms of COVID-19 include the following:

  • Appetite loss
  • COVID toes (characterized by toes that have a pink, red, or purple tint, or that may contain pus)
  • Confusion (a symptom in seniors)
  • Dizziness
  • A rash or lesions that resemble chickenpox

Treatments

Sinus infections and COVID-19 don’t typically require treatment. The best you can do is alleviate the symptoms, but these conditions usually resolve on their own.

Remedies that will provide symptomatic relief and aid the recovery of both COVID-19 and sinusitis, include:

  • Resting

  • Drinking fluids

  • Using over-the-counter pain medication

  • Using a nasal decongestant or neti pot (nasal rinse)

FDA-Approved Treatments for COVID-19

The FDA has also approved certain medications for patients who are at high risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19.

Antiviral treatments are medications that prevent the virus from multiplying, thereby decreasing the likelihood of severe symptoms and death.

Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) are synthetic antibodies that strengthen your immune system’s ability to fight the virus.

FDA-approved treatments for COVID-19 include:

Antiviral Treatments:

  • Paxlovid (Nirmatrelvir and Ritonavir)

  • Veklury

Monoclonal Antibodies:

  • Bebtelovimab

  • Molnupiravir

Concerned about COVID-19?

Book an online appointment with a doctor now to get your symptoms assessed.

Prevention

The prevention methods for COVID-19 and sinus infections are slightly different, but there are some things you can do that will help protect against both sinus infections and COVID-19.

Preventative methods for COVID-19 and sinusitis include:

  • Sanitizing your hands with an alcohol solution

  • Regularly washing your hands with soap and water

  • Keeping your distance from people who display respiratory symptoms

In addition, to prevent sinus infections, you’ll need to:

  • Use a saline rinse to alleviate nasal congestion

  • Control your allergies with a good treatment plan

  • Avoid allergy triggers, such as pet dander and pollen

To help prevent COVID-19 infections, you’ll need to:

  • Wear a mask

  • Get vaccinated

  • Practice social distancing

  • Disinfect surfaces that may be exposed to the novel coronavirus

What Else Could It Be?

It’s possible that you could have some of the symptoms mentioned in this article — such as a sore throat, nasal congestion, body aches, or runny nose — and not have COVID-19 or a sinus infection.

When examining your symptoms, don’t rule out the possibility that you might have:

A common cold

This is a viral infection that involves the nose and throat (your upper respiratory tract). Most people will experience a cold one or more times a year, and it’s usually quite harmless.

Some cold symptoms include:

  • A sore throat

  • A runny nose

  • Congestion

  • Body aches

  • Headaches

  • Low-grade fever

Allergies

If you’re experiencing symptoms of allergic rhinitis, it may be difficult to tell if your sore throat and sinus symptoms are anything more than seasonal allergies.

The best way to tell the difference between allergies and COVID-19 is to try to pinpoint any changes in your usual symptoms.

For example, if you experience fatigue, loss of appetite, or nausea, it’s best to get yourself tested for COVID-19 and to self-isolate until you get your results.

When Should I See a Doctor?

Sinus Infections

If your sinusitis does not clear up within 10 days, you should consult your doctor.

Complications arising from sinusitis, such as brain abscesses or bone infections, are rare, but proper treatment can prevent them.

COVID-19

If you’re struggling to manage COVID-19 symptoms at home, you’ll need to get in touch with your doctor.

A high fever (above 100.4°F) and breathing difficulties may require medical attention.

If you have any comorbidities, you’re at a higher risk of being hospitalized or needing oxygen therapy, so get in touch with a doctor as soon as possible if your symptoms worsen.

Being vaccinated and getting proper treatment can prevent long-term damage from COVID-19.

Where Can I Learn More About Sinus Infections and COVID-19?

If you’re struggling with sinusitis or you’re displaying symptoms of COVID-19, you can meet with a U.S. based, board-certified doctor from your smartphone, laptop, or computer. Visit LifeMD.com to make your first appointment. If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and have only recently started displaying symptoms, you may qualify for the Covid-19 pill, which can help reduce the severity of symptoms. Talk to your doctor at your LifeMD appointment to learn more.

Jonathan Guirguis, DO

Dr. Guirguis attended Nova Southeastern University for medical school and stayed in South Florida to train in Internal Medicine. Born outside Chicago, he slowly made his way down south, settling in Texas with his wife and three children.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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