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How To Differentiate Between A Sinus Infection And Covid-19

Sinuses are the air-filled pockets that are present in the skull.(1)  When there is accumulation of fluid within the sinuses, it causes germs such as bacteria and viruses to multiply and cause a sinus infection.

COVID-19 is caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2.(2) The amount of the virus present can be more in the sinus and nasal region.(3) There are certain symptoms of Covid-19, which can appear at the same time with the symptoms of sinus infection.

Some of the common symptoms, such as fever, sore throat and nasal congestion can lead to confusion, as to if you suffer from COVID-19 or a sinus infection. In this article, we will talk about the difference between a sinus infection and covid-19.

How to Tell Covid-19 and a Sinus Infection Apart?

There are many similar symptoms of COVID-19 and sinus infections such as: fever, headache, congested or runny nose, cough, sore throat and fatigue.

The differentiating symptoms of a sinus infection from Covid-19 are:

  • Pain or pressure felt in the sinus regions, which include surrounding the upper cheeks, inner portion of the eyes and forehead.
  • Presence of postnasal drip in sinus infection.
  • Bad breath in sinus infection.
  • Toothache in sinus infection.
  • Nasal drainage which has a different color in sinus infection.
  • Decreased sense of smell in sinus infection.

Postnasal drip and sinus pain or pressure are signs of a sinus infection. These signs and symptoms are often present with other symptoms of sinus infection, such as a stuffy or runny nose.

Unique Symptoms of Covid-19: Some of the unique symptoms of Covid-19 which can be rarely seen in a sinus infection are: body aches; shortness of breath; loss of taste and smell; and digestive symptoms, such as diarrheanausea and vomiting.

The duration of loss of taste and smell caused by Covid-19 is about 9 days on an average. (4) Majority of the patients get back their sense of taste and smell in 28 days.

About 60% of patients suffering from sinus infection can experience a decreased sense of smell when having cold or sinus infection.(5) When suffering from Covid-19, the loss of taste and smell is almost gone and can also occur without having a stuffy or runny nose.

Differentiating Between Sinus Infection and Covid-19 According to the Sequence of Symptoms:

Some of the other ways to differentiate between sinus infection and Covid-19 are:

  • The appearance of symptoms.
  • The duration of symptoms.
  • The severity of symptoms.

The Appearance of Symptoms in Sinus Infection and Covid-19

  • The sinus infection symptoms are of sudden in nature. On the other hand, the symptoms of Covid-19 are more gradual to develop and can take about 2 to 14 days to occur after getting exposed to the SARS-CoV-2.(6)
  • A sinus infection can commonly develop after suffering from cold or the flu. If the appearance of symptoms is after the patient has been unwell for some time, then it is likely that it is a sinus infection.
  • Viruses that cause flu or cold are commonly present in the winter and fall months; whereas; covid-19 can be contracted any time of the year.
  • A person can also develop a sinus infection after exposure to irritants or allergens, such as cigarette smoke, pet dander and pollen. The risk of a sinus infection is more when you suffer from allergies or were lately exposed to an irritant.
  • A person can develop a sinus infection after suffering from COVID-19; however, this has not been seen till now.

The Duration of Symptoms in Sinus Infection and Covid-19

  • A sinus infection usually resolves in 2 to 3 weeks.(7) On the other hand Covid-19 can last for around a week or two or even more depending on the severity of the infection and the patient’s overall health.
  • A study done in 2020 which included 270 outpatients suffering from Covid-19 revealed that around 175 people of these patients were able to get their usual level of health about a week after having a positive Covid-19 test.(8)
  • There are certain symptoms of Covid-19 which can persist from some time, such as loss of smell or taste and cough.
  • Some patients can have long-haul Covid-19, which consists of a group of symptoms, which continue to be present in the weeks and even months after suffering from Covid infection.

The Severity of Symptoms in Sinus Infection and Covid-19

Majority of the sinus infections subside on their own without any severe complications or lingering symptoms. Antibiotics are prescribed for a bacterial sinus infection.

Many of the Covid-19 cases can be mild or moderate. According to The World Health Organization, around 20% of patients suffering from Covid-19 can experience critical or severe illness.(9) The severity of the Covid-19 infections is more in older adults and those suffering from certain diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension.

What Steps are Needed…..

In case of sinus infection, the steps to be taken are:

Sinus infections often resolve their own and can be easily treated at home. Rarely can a sinus infection spread outside the sinus cavities and cause persistent symptoms. In case of acute headache or nasal symptoms, such as stuffy or runny nose for many weeks, consult your doctor immediately.

In Case of Covid-19, The Steps to be Taken are

If the symptoms feel like COVID-19, then it is important to get a Covid-19 test to confirm. Stay at home and do not come in contact with anyone till you get your result back to prevent the spreading of this disease.

When to Meet a Doctor?

Regardless of whether you are suffering from Covid-19 or a sinus infection, if there is no improvement in the symptoms or if there is worsening of symptoms, then contact your doctor immediately.

It is imperative to seek prompt medical attention when experiencing severe Covid-19 symptoms such as: persistent chest pressure/ pain; difficulty in breathing; persistent drowsiness; disorientation; difficulty in waking up; blue or gray tinge to the skin, fingernails or lips.

Always inform the hospital staff when suffering from Covid-19, when you are going to consult your doctor.

The Treatment…..

There are some similarities along with differences in the treatment of sinus infections and COVID-19.

Treating Sinus Infection: 

Viruses are responsible for causing majority of the sinus infections so antibiotics are useless in such cases. Most of the times, the sinus infection resolves with at-home care, which includes:

  • Getting plenty of rest.
  • Application of a warm compress to the forehead or nose to alleviate any pain or pressure.
  • It is important to drink lot of fluids as this will help in thinning the mucus so it can drain easily.
  • Steam inhalation is also helpful or you can stand in a shower and breathe in the steamy air.
  • A saline nasal wash also helps in relieving the symptoms of sinus infection.
  • Over-the-counter medicines also provide relief from nasal congestion, discomfort and fever.

Treating Covid-19:

Treatment of mild to moderate Covid-19 can be done at home using most of the measures which are used for treating sinus infections, such as rest, OTC medications and increased fluid intake.

Hospitalization is needed for severe cases of Covid-19, where treatment can consist of:

  • Giving supplemental oxygen to the patient.
  • Medications such as antiviral drug (remdesivir) and steroid (dexamethasone).
  • Mechanical ventilation may be needed.
  • Anti-SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibodies are given.
  • Convalescent plasma is also an important part of treating severe Covid-19.

Mandatory Steps to Be Taken After Diagnosis of Covid-19

If sinus infection has been diagnosed, then at-home care methods which are detailed above should be adopted for better and faster symptom relief. If there is no improvement in the symptoms or if they get worse after about 10 days, then consult your doctor for further treatment. (10)

If Covid-19 has been diagnosed with a positive Covid-19 test result, then the following steps are mandatory:

  • Stay at Home and Isolate from Others: Isolate yourself immediately if you are living with your family and do not step outside our home unless you need medical care. This should be strictly adhered to, to prevent the spreading of this disease to others. Stay in separate bedroom and wear a mask when around family members and other people.
  • Pay Attention to Your Covid Symptoms: It is important to track your Covid symptoms to be on alert when they become serious in order to take the steps accordingly.
  • Maintain Hygiene: It is important to keep yourself and your surroundings clean. Covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, frequent washing of hands, and clean the high-touch areas.
  • Let Others Know: If you were in contact with other people before testing positive for COVID-19, inform them immediately so they also can get tested.

Is It Important To Get Tested Again To Know If You Have Recovered From Covid-19?

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the patients suffering from Covid-19 do not require one more test to conclude their isolation period.(11) The signs which means that you have recovered from Covid-19 and can be around others are:

  • A minimum of 10 days have passed since the appearance of the covid symptoms.
  • You haven’t had any fever in 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications, such as like ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
  • There is an improvement in overall symptoms and general well being.

What is Long-Haul Covid-19?

Long-haul Covid-19 is severe covid, which persists for weeks and even months.(12) Some of the symptoms of long-haul Covid-19 are: shortness of breath; severe fatigue or tiredness; brain fog; aches in the joints or muscles and heart palpitations.(12)

Let’s Talk About the Prognosis?

Sinus infections are comparatively common and are not severe and resolve in a few days without any persistent effects or complications.

Covid-19 is a serious disease that can cause long-term complications or symptoms. Covid-19 is also extremely contagious, so the patient must absolutely isolate from others and strictly follow all the covid protocols and after recovering, get the covid vaccine.

It is highly recommended to get a Covid-19 vaccine after recovering from it, as the exact duration of immunity after suffering from a Covid is not clear. If the treatment of Covid-19 was done using convalescent plasma or monoclonal antibodies, then a gap of 90 days should be given after recovering and before taking the covid vaccine.(13)


Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 21, 2022

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