Your sinuses are air-filled pockets that are located behind your face. When fluid builds up in your sinuses, germs like viruses and bacteria can multiply and lead to a sinus infection.
COVID-19 is a viral illness that’s caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Levels of the virus can be
Symptoms like nasal congestion, sore throat, or fever may cause you to wonder if you have a sinus infection or COVID-19. Read on to find out how to tell the difference.
Sinus infections and COVID-19 can have many symptoms in common, including:
Some symptoms of a sinus infection that are different from those of COVID-19 include:
- sinus pain or pressure felt around the upper cheeks, forehead, or inner portion of the eyes
- postnasal drip
- bad breath
- reduced sense of smell
- differently colored nasal drainage
Sinus pain or pressure and postnasal drip are good indicators of a sinus infection. These symptoms typically occur along with other common sinus infection symptoms, such as a runny or stuffy nose.
Unique symptoms of COVID-19 that are rarely present during a sinus infection include:
- shortness of breath
- body aches and pains
- digestive symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- loss of smell and taste
A reduced sense of smell can happen over
Here are some other ways you can tell sinus infections apart from COVID-19 by:
- when symptoms first appear
- how long symptoms last
- how severe symptoms are
When do symptoms first appear?
The symptoms of a sinus infection often come on suddenly. COVID-19 symptoms can develop more gradually
A sinus infection can often happen after you’ve had a common viral illness, such as a cold or the flu. If your symptoms develop after you’ve already been sick, you may have a sinus infection.
Viruses that cause a cold or flu tend to circulate in the fall and winter months. COVID-19 can occur any time of the year. While a sinus infection could develop following COVID-19, this hasn’t yet been reported by research.
A sinus infection can also occur after exposure to allergens or irritants, such as pollen, pet dander, and cigarette smoke. If you have allergies or were recently around an irritant, you may be at risk for a sinus infection.
How long do symptoms last?
Typically, a sinus infection clears up within 2 to 3 weeks. COVID-19 lasts for about a week or two depending on its severity and your overall health.
Some symptoms like cough and loss of smell or taste may linger temporarily after COVID-19. Some people may experience long-haul COVID-19, a group of symptoms that persist in the weeks and months following an infection.
How severe are the symptoms?
Most sinus infections go away on their own without severe symptoms or complications. If a sinus infection is caused by bacteria, you may need antibiotics.
Many cases of COVID-19 may be mild or moderate. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that
Here’s what to do next whether you think that you have a sinus infection or COVID-19.
A sinus infection will usually go away on its own and can be treated at home. We’ll discuss some home care tips for a sinus infection in more detail below.
In rare cases, a sinus infection can spread beyond the sinus cavities and cause lasting symptoms. See a doctor if you’re experiencing severe head pain or nasal symptoms like a runny or stuffy nose for several weeks or more.
If you notice symptoms of COVID-19, get a COVID-19 test right away. This is the only way to be sure that your symptoms are due to COVID-19 and not another illness.
Get in touch with a doctor or your
Plan to stay home until you receive your test result. This can help prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to others.
Even if you know you have a sinus infection or COVID-19, speak with a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve or begin to get worse.
Seek medical attention immediately if you experience severe symptoms of COVID-19, such as:
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain or pressure that doesn’t go away
- blue or gray skin, lips, or fingernails
- trouble staying awake
- difficulty waking up
If you’re concerned you may have COVID-19, let medical staff know prior to or upon arrival at a medical facility.
The treatments of sinus infections and COVID-19 also have some similarities and differences.
Many sinus infections are caused by viruses, so antibiotics aren’t typically needed. In most cases, a sinus infection gets better with at-home care, such as:
- getting rest
- drinking plenty of fluids to help loosen mucus
- applying a warm compress to your nose or forehead to help ease pressure
- breathing in steamy air, such as by standing in the shower
- using a saline nasal wash
- taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications to relieve fever, discomfort, and nasal congestion
Mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms can typically be treated at home using many of the same measures that are used for sinus infections. These include getting rest, drinking enough fluids, and using OTC medications.
More serious cases of COVID-19 need to be treated in a hospital. Some potential treatments include:
- supplemental oxygen
- remdesivir, an antiviral drug
- dexamethasone, a steroid medication
- anti-SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibodies
- convalescent plasma
- mechanical ventilation
Now let’s take a look at what to do whether you receive a diagnosis of either a sinus infection or COVID-19.
If you have a sinus infection, use the at-home care methods discussed above. It may take some time for your symptoms to improve, but they should go away within a few weeks.
Contact a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve or get worse
Do the following if you have a positive COVID-19 test result:
- Stay home. Unless you’re receiving medical care, it’s important to stay home during your recovery to prevent the spread of the virus to others in your community.
- Stay separate. If you live with other people, separate yourself from them. Use a separate bedroom and bathroom if possible. Wear a mask if you need to be around others in your household.
- Track your symptoms. COVID-19 can become serious, so make sure to keep track of your symptoms as you recover.
- Care for yourself. Use at-home care measures to ease symptoms and aid in your recovery.
- Keep clean. Wash your hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, and clean high-touch surfaces.
- Contact others. If you were around others prior to testing positive for COVID-19, let them know so that they can seek testing.
- It’s been at least 10 days since your symptoms appeared.
- You’ve gone at least 24 hours without a fever without using fever-reducing medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).
- Your overall symptoms are improving.
Long-haul COVID-19 can last for weeks or months. If you think that you have this, see a doctor to learn about your options for managing symptoms.
Some examples of long-haul COVID-19 symptoms are:
- extreme fatigue
- shortness of breath
- brain fog
- heart palpitations
- aches and pains in your muscles or joints
Sinus infections are relatively common and not serious. Most sinus infections go away within days and don’t leave any lasting effects.
COVID-19 is much more serious and can result in long-term symptoms or complications. It’s also highly contagious, so it’s important to isolate yourself until you’re better and get a vaccine.
It’s not clear how long immunity lasts after a COVID-19 infection, so it’s still important to get a COVID-19 vaccine after you recover. If you were treated with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you’ll need to wait