Man with either a cold or sinus infection

This winter has been particularly rough for the immune system, with both children and adults being affected by illnesses like COVID, RSV, and – more commonly – viral upper respiratory infections known as "the common cold." In some cases these yearly maladies can involve the linings of your sinuses, at which point they're considered a "sinusitis", meaning sinus inflammation.


  1. Do I have facial pain?
  2. How is my breath?
  3. How long has my sickness lasted?

To figure out whether you’re dealing with the common cold or sinusitis, it helps to ask yourself these questions:

Do I have facial pain?

As mentioned, a common cold and a sinus infection have a lot in common in terms of presenting symptoms. The biggest crossovers include nasal congestion and thickened discharge from the nose. One symptom that splits the difference is facial pain.

This symptom arises where the inflammation is taking place, namely in your sinuses that are present in the forehead, behind your cheeks, and between your eyes. Rather than just being a blockage in the nasal cavity, which causes decreased airflow or a "stuffy nose," sinus swelling occurs in areas of the face surrounding the nasal cavity, hence the additional pain beyond the nose.

How is my breath?

It may seem rather odd, but your breath could be a clue to figuring out what type of illness you have. Patients with a cold often do not have bad breath (or rather bad breath that is caused directly by this condition). Those with acute and chronic sinusitis may not be so lucky.

Bad breath from sinus infections is a two-pronged cause. The limited air flow from nasal passages can cause dry mouth, while postnasal drip can run down the throat as well. This combo can create an unpleasant taste for the patient that translates into bad breath.

How long has my sickness lasted?

Finally, your symptom duration is one of your best indicators. Common cold symptoms typically come on gradually then last for a week and can usually subside without major treatment. In some cases, the viral inflammation from the common cold can affect your sinuses, causing facial pain an pressure, but this should dissipate in time with the rest of your common cold symptoms.

Dr. Adam Gigliotti, a CEENTA ENT physician based out of our Uptown office, goes into more detail about how symptom duration can be a clue. "If symptoms linger beyond ten days, or if they start to improve slightly before getting worse again - called a "double worsening" - this may indicate that a bacterial sinus infection has developed which often requires more involved medical management."

Whether you're having too many sinus infections per year, or having prolonged sinusitis symptoms for months at a time, CEENTA’s team of board-certified ENT physicians across nearly twenty offices can examine your sinuses and determine the best course of treatment to get you feeling better.

Get started on your symptom relief today by schedule your same-day ENT appointment with Dr. Gigliotti at our Uptown location online or through myCEENTAchart.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. New patients can make appointments online with our ENT doctors in North and South Carolina. Current patients can also make appointments through myCEENTAchart with physicians they have already seen.


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