The Key Differences Between COVID-19 Versus a Sinus Infection

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It’s easy to panic and assume you have COVID-19 if you suddenly develop a runny nose and headache, but it’s also simple enough to write your symptoms off as “just” a sinus infection. And then it’s possible to be somewhere in the middle, wondering whether you’re under- or over-reacting.

Given that it’s now officially cold and flu season, the sinus infections that can follow those illnesses are becoming more common. And so is the question of whether you’re dealing with COVID-19 vs. a sinus infection.

Not sure what’s happening in your body? This info from doctors should help.

First, what is a sinus infection?

A sinus infection, a.k.a. sinusitis, happens when fluid builds up in your sinuses, the air-filled pockets in your face, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That allows germs to grow. Viruses cause most sinus infections, but bacteria can cause some sinus.

There are several things that can raise your risk of getting a sinus infection, but the CDC specifically lists these:

  • A previous cold
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Structural problems within the sinuses, like growths on the lining of the nose or sinuses
  • A weak immune system or taking drugs that weaken the immune system

What are the symptoms of a sinus infection?

According to the CDC, these are the most common symptoms of a sinus infection:

  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Facial pain or pressure
  • Headache
  • Mucus dripping down the throat (post-nasal drip)
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Bad breath

But, in some situations, you may experience severe headache or facial pain, symptoms that get worse after initially improving, symptoms that last for more than 10 days without getting better, and a fever lasting longer than three to four days.

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