If you’re afflicted with a runny nose and sore throat, you can most likely attribute it to the common cold. Adults average two to three per year, and they typically last between seven and 10 days. There are some symptoms, however, that may point to a sinus infection.

Common Cold

While people can catch a cold any time of year, winter and spring are the most common seasons. There are several viruses that can trigger a cold, with the rhinovirus being the most common. Rhin, from the Greek word for nose, indicates how a cold virus enters the body.

cold versus sinusitis

When an infected person coughs, talks, or sneezes, the tiny droplets that enter the air are inhaled by others, often leading to illness. People also catch colds by touching items an infected person has touched and then wipe the eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. Frequent hand washing, especially before touching the face, helps prevent the virus from spreading.

Cold Symptoms

The most common symptoms of a cold include the following:

  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Low-grade fever
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue

Cold Treatment

There is not a cure for the common cold, and antibiotics are ineffective because it’s a virus. Over-the-counter medications targeted to relieve specific ailments, such as congestion, often provide temporary relief.

Getting enough rest and drinking fluids is often the best medicine for working through the cold’s symptoms. Some people have success with using a neti pot to flush out the sinuses with a saltwater solution that helps to thin the mucus.


Although colds aren’t usually the direct cause of a sinus infection or sinusitis, they do contribute to the conditions in which the infection breeds. A runny nose is one of the symptoms of a cold, and it requires frequent touching. Each time a person touches the nose, it increases the chances of adding bacteria to the sinuses. Because the sinuses can’t drain properly, the bacteria also remain in the system. It’s the continued growth of bacteria that ultimately leads to sinusitis.

Sinusitis Symptoms

When the above cold symptoms last more than 10 days and become more severe, it has most likely turned into a sinus infection.

  • Pressure behind the eyes and cheeks
  • Continued stuffy nose
  • Sinus headache
  • Continued or rising fever
  • Bad breath
  • Thick green or yellow mucus
  • Fatigue

Acute vs. Chronic Sinusitis

When the tissue lining the sinuses becomes inflamed, it results in infection. At that point, it’s advisable to seek medical treatment.

When the pain of a sinus infection lasts up to 12 weeks, the diagnosis is acute sinusitis. Chronic sinusitis refers to a condition lasting longer than 12 weeks.

Other Factors that Contribute to Sinusitis

There are other contributing factors that lead to sinus infections. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded in its 2018 National Health Survey that 28.9 million U.S. adults were diagnosed with chronic sinusitis, which is 11.6% of the population.

There has been an increase in the number of Los Angeles patients presenting with acute sinusitis. Contributing factors include a growing resistance to antibiotics and poor urban air quality. In addition to the common cold, the following conditions also cause congestion and blocked nasal passages:

  • Deviated septum: The septum is the thin wall separating the air passages in the nose. When the septum is dislodged, or deviated, from its normal position, it can cause problems with the sinuses.
  • Environmental allergies, such as those resulting from pollen, animal dander, dust, and mold aggravate the sinuses and lead to infections.
  • Nasal or sinus polyps are usually small growths in the nasal cavity that do not cause a problem. However, larger polyps can lead to complications such as chronic sinusitis.
  • Enlarged Turbinates: When functioning properly, the turbinates filter allergens, dirt, and pollen, as well as humidify the sinuses. If they’ve become enlarged, the result is sinus pain and increased incidence of infection.

Sinusitis Treatment

It’s recommended to make an appointment with a physician who efficiently treats both acute and chronic sinusitis through accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. A course of antibiotics, sinus irrigation, nasal decongestants, and steroids may be prescribed by the doctor to resolve acute sinusitis symptoms.

ent for sinusitis

Patients suffering from conditions leading to chronic sinusitis may benefit from further minimally invasive in-office treatment options, including the following:

  • Sinus CT Scan provides high-definition 3-D images with focused precision and minimal radiation exposure.
  • Sinus Cultures required to determine a successful treatment
  • Turbinate Reduction is performed under local anesthesia by a sinus surgeon to shrink the turbinates.
  • Polypectomy addresses the polyps with the use of a microdebrider and an endoscope.
  • Deviated Septum Repair requires a ½” incision inside the nose where the doctor is able to perform septoplasty in 45 to 60 minutes without breaking bones or bruising. It may also be performed at the same time as cosmetic nose surgery, rhinoplasty.
  • Balloon Sinuplasty is a procedure in which tiny balloons are placed throughout the sinuses and enlarged. By enlarging the balloons, it also enlarges the sinus pathway. It does not require anesthesia and minimal recovery.
  • Sinus and Nasal Endoscopy is a minimally invasive image-guided endoscopic sinus surgery (MIGSS) used to clear the sinuses.
  • Revision Sinus Surgery is performed by doctors on limited issues involving severe polyps, scarring, or infection.
  • Eustachian Tube Dysfunction Treatment: A physician using an ENT dilation system provides a safe, effective and minimally invasive treatment for ETD patients.

Contact a Trusted Otolaryngologist

Contact an otolaryngologist (ENT: ear, nose, and throat doctor) who specializes in all nasal and sinus disorders to begin the journey of improved nasal and sinus health. 

An ENT is typically required to complete 15 years of college and training to become certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology. That includes undergraduate study and medical school as well as at least five years of specialized training.  

A general practitioner can diagnose and treat a sinus infection with antibiotics; however, when you experience recurring symptoms and discomfort, it’s advisable to seek the advice of a specially-trained ENT doctor to alleviate the problem.