6 Signs Your Awful Cold Has Actually Turned Into a Sinus Infection

February 18 2019

Congestion. Runny nose. Sore throat. These are cold symptoms we know all too well. But what happens when all the chicken soup and vitamin C in the world don’t seem to be doing the trick? It may be one of the sneaky signs that you actually have a sinus infection.


What is a sinus infection?

“Sinus infections are viral or bacterial infections of the sinus cavities located in the cheeks, between the eyes, above the eyebrows, and behind the eyes,” explains otolaryngologist Dr Melynda Barnes.

“During a sinus infection, the lining of the sinuses becomes inflamed and swollen, and the glands within the lining produces a lot of mucus. It is this sinus inflammation and mucus that leads to the common but sneaky symptoms,” Dr Barnes says.

There are four sinuses on each side of your face, and any one of them can become infected, says Dr Barnes. Which sinus is infected will determine the symptoms you may experience. If your cheek sinuses are infected, for example, then you will likely feel pain over your cheeks.


Are sinus infections contagious?

Sort of. If your sinus infection was brought on by a virus, then you can spread the virus to others. However, you can’t spread the sinus infection itself. The inflammation that builds up from a cold is what causes a sinus infection, but this doesn’t necessarily happen every time someone catches a cold.

Nurse Valerie King explains, “Most sinus infections are caused by viruses. And yes, viruses can be contagious because they can be present on many items that people touch. But usually if you get sick with a virus that you’ve touched, you only develop cold-like symptoms. It’s when the cold like symptoms, such as congestion, lingers and can actually develop into a bacterial infection.”


How are sinus infections diagnosed?

Determining whether someone has a sinus infection can be difficult even for a trained professional. “Since sinus infections and bronchitis symptoms aren’t easily diagnosed with a simple test and rely on the clinician’s judgment of the clinical picture, it is a tricky and confusing illness,” says King.

Signs you have a sinus infection

Often, sinus infections occur after a cold, so they may take you by surprise – especially since they have many of the same symptoms as respiratory infections and are often caused by the same viruses that cause colds. If your symptoms persists for more than a week, it’s worth checking in with your doctor to see if you have a sinus infection. Here are some common sinus infection symptoms to look out for.


1) Eye pain

If you are experiencing eye pain in addition to other cold symptoms, then there’s a good chance that you have a sinus infection. “This occurs because the sinuses sit in areas above, below, and next to the eyes,” explains ophthalmologist Dr Ming Wang. “When pressure builds up in these areas, it can cause a dull pain that feels like it’s coming from around or behind the eyes, but it is actually coming from the sinuses,” he says. Dr Wang says this is one of the most misunderstood symptoms of sinus infections he sees.


4) Headache

Having a sinus headache doesn’t automatically mean you have a sinus infection, but headaches can be one of the sneaky signs that one is brewing. “Traditional sinus headaches tend to be ‘frontal,’ or felt in the forehead and eyebrows, and ‘maxillary,’ or in the cheeks,” explains Dr Amber Stephens.

“Often when a patient leans down or bends forward, such as when tying one’s shoe, the motion will cause mucus to pour forward with increased pressure.” Dr Stephens says she has had patients who thought they had migraines but actually had sinus infections.


5) Bad breath

Dr Ro says that a foul smell in your nose or bad breath can also be signs that a sinus infection is at play. As orthopaedic medicine specialist Dr Don Grant explains it, “If you have a sinus infection, you may experience a thick, yellow or green mucus in the nose and throat. As the mucus drips down your throat, it affects your breath, making it smell unpleasant.” And because your nose is congested, you’ll breathe through your mouth more, drying it out and exacerbating your bad breath.


6) Symptoms are worsening

Are your symptoms worsening rather than improving after a week or so? If you suspect a sinus infection, pay attention to the timing.

“Colds are usually over by five to seven days, whereas sinus infections can worsen at five to seven days, especially if they are bacterial and you haven’t started antibiotics yet,” says Dr Barnes. So if you just can’t seem to kick that cold, it’s probably worth checking in with your doctor.


Article originally published on Prevention.