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Difference Between Sinus Infection Symptoms and COVID

11.30.21

BY: DR. KYON HOOD, MD

In the age of COVID-19, it's easy to wonder whether you're sick with the virus as soon as you feel symptoms coming on. One of the easiest illnesses to mistake for COVID is a sinus infection. However, while its symptoms can look similar to those caused by COVID-19, a sinus infection is very different from the coronavirus. Let's explore the differences between sinus infection symptoms and COVID to help you get a better sense of what both illnesses look like.

In the age of COVID-19, it's easy to wonder whether you're sick with the virus as soon as you feel symptoms coming on.

One of the easiest illnesses to mistake for COVID is a sinus infection. However, while its symptoms can look similar to those caused by COVID-19, a sinus infection is very different from the coronavirus.

Let's explore the differences between sinus infection symptoms and COVID to help you get a better sense of what both illnesses look like.

What Are the Symptoms of a Sinus Infection?

A sinus infection (sinusitis) can develop when the tissue that lines your sinuses starts to swell up. This swelling can occur due to allergies, nasal polyps, a deviated septum, or just a cold.

There are two types of sinusitis: acute and chronic.

In a case of acute sinusitis, symptoms tend to last for no longer than four weeks. However, you may recover much faster than that, starting to see improvements after closer to two weeks.

Chronic sinusitis, on the other hand, can last much longer, sometimes persisting for months. In addition, sufferers of chronic sinusitis often deal with symptoms multiple times per year, sometimes triggered by allergies or asthma.

The symptoms of a sinus infection include:

Post-Nasal Drip and Nasal Discharge

Post-nasal drip occurs when mucus runs from your nasal passages into the back of your throat. This buildup of mucus can be irritating, leading to a sore throat and a runny nose. nasal drainage from a sinus infection might cause you to cough up colored mucus.

Facial Pressure

The nasal congestion that causes a sinus infection can lead to a feeling of pressure in your sinus cavities. This pressure sometimes manifests as head and neck tension, usually around your forehead, the middle of your nose, and your cheeks.

Cough

Postnasal drip can lead to a chronic tickling sensation in the back of your throat. This tickle, sometimes referred to as a "frog in your throat," can be extremely irritating, and you might find yourself coughing in an effort to get relief.

Halitosis (Bad Breath)

A sinus infection often causes bad breath. This is because of the foul-smelling mucus that builds up in infected sinuses. While mucus is typically colorless and odorless, that's not the case when you have a sinus infection.

Infected sinuses fill up with green or yellow mucus that drips into the back of your throat, causing bad breath.

How Are COVID Symptoms Different From Sinus Infection Symptoms?

If you have COVID-19, you're highly likely to experience many of the same symptoms as you would with a sinus infection. However, there are some key differences to look for between the symptoms of COVID and what we mentioned above.

You May Experience Shortness of Breath or Body Aches

Muscle aches and difficulty breathing are two symptoms that set COVID apart from a sinus infection. These symptoms can pop up with other illnesses, but they are typically unlikely to arise from a run-of-the-mill sinus infection.

While many people infected with COVID get better on their own, emergency medical attention is needed in some cases due to breathing problems and other factors.

In some circumstances, especially when serious complications arise, a COVID-19 sufferer may suffer from severe shortness of breath, bluish lips, and other troubling symptoms.

You May Have Digestive Symptoms

In addition, COVID can sometimes cause GI-related symptoms, including nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. These symptoms aren't what you'd typically experience with a sinus infection, and they are telltale signs that you are dealing with something other than the common cold.

You May Experience Loss of Taste or Smell

One common symptom reported with COVID-19 is loss of taste or smell. While it's possible to have trouble tasting or smelling when sick with a sinus infection, this symptom tends to be much more noticeable in COVID cases.

COVID Can’t Be Treated With Antibiotics

Sinus infections are often caused by bacteria in your nasal cavity and sinuses. However, COVID-19 is a viral infection, which means antibiotics won’t target the illness at the source.

Instead of antibiotics, the best treatment option for COVID-19 in most cases is to rest up. Severe cases of COVID might require hospitalization, but most people who come down with the virus typically just need to stay home, get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of fluids, and wait until the symptoms subside.

How Long Does It Take COVID Symptoms to Appear?

While it's typical for COVID symptoms to appear within a few days of exposure, you may experience a delayed onset in getting sick with the virus.

Symptoms can appear anywhere between 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

How Do You Know If You Have COVID-19?

If you suspect that you have COVID-19, the best way to know for sure is to get tested.

Even if you've already received your full vaccination for the virus, it is still possible to contract COVID. Thus, taking a test is the ideal first step upon exposure, regardless of whether or not you have had a COVID-19 vaccine series.

Below are the two most commonly used types of tests:

PCR Test

A PCR (polymerase chain reaction test) for COVID-19 detects the presence of the virus in your system if you are currently sick. However, to determine whether you were previously ill with COVID-19 and have antibodies in your system, you'll need a different type of test.

Taking a PCR test is a good choice if you are experiencing the hallmark symptoms of the virus, including a fever, chills, coughing, trouble breathing, fatigue, body aches, loss of taste or smell, and other flu-like symptoms.

Antigen Test

Antigen tests are a more affordable, more widely available alternative to PCR tests for COVID. These tests can also detect the presence of the virus in your system, but they are not as sensitive or accurate as PCR tests. That means you may receive a false negative result, indicating that you don't have COVID when you actually do.

Conclusion

If you suspect you may have COVID, contact your primary care physician for guidance. They may recommend you get COVID-tested, or they may also just recommend you stay at home and quarantine for two weeks since symptoms appeared.

If you end up staying home, make sure to get plenty of rest and stay hydrated. We hope you get well soon!

Sources:

COVID-19: Management in Patients with SARS-CoV-2 Infection—Molecular Mechanisms, Challenges, and Perspectives | NCBI

PCR Test for COVID-19: What It Is, How Its Done, What The Results Mean | Cleveland Clinic

Covid-19 Updates How does the COVID-19 antigen test work? | MIT Medical

Coronavirus (COVID-19) frequently asked questions | CDC

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