Lady blowing her nose

Is it a Cold or a Sinus Infection?

When you are feeling sick, it is important to take note of the symptoms you are experiencing. This will help you better identify the cause of your symptoms and find an appropriate treatment so you can start feeling better.

But how do you find out what is making you sick if some illnesses produce similar symptoms? For example, if you are experiencing a fever and a runny nose, you may wonder if you are dealing with a common cold or fighting a sinus infection. Although these illnesses can be hard to tell apart, there are some factors which may help you understand the difference as you read on.

Cold vs. Sinus Infection

The common cold and a sinus infection both affect the respiratory passageways. As such, it is possible for them to be transitional illnesses and cause similar symptoms when a cold transforms into a sinus infection. 1

Cold Symptoms

Colds usually begin gradually and may cause a sore throat, stuffy nose and mild to moderate cough. You may also experience sneezing. A fever doesn't always accompany a cold, but some people may experience a low-grade temperature. In addition, a cold may cause fatigue, weakness, and slight body aches.2

Sinus Infection Symptoms

If you have a sinus infection, you may experience a runny or stuffy nose, a cough or sore throat, or a headache. You may also develop a fever and/or bad breath. 3

Unlike a cold which typically builds, peaks, and slowly disappears, a sinus infection can happen suddenly (acute sinusitis) and is likely to cause facial swelling, which leads to facial pressure and pain. 1, 3

Causes of Colds and Sinus Infections

Rhinovirus is the most common type of virus that causes the common cold. However, this virus can also cause other respiratory implications such as asthma attacks, ear, and sinus infection.4 As such, when the common cold transitions to a sinus infection, your body is battling the same type of virus as a common cold.

A sinus infection can also be triggered by other elements unrelated to the common cold. This includes seasonal allergies, nasal polyps (a growth in the lining of your nasal passageways that can lead to breathing problems), fungi, bacteria from congested sinus not previously due to a cold, or a weakened immune system. In all cases, a sinus infection occurs when your nasal passageways become irritated and inflamed. When this happens, your sinuses produce thick and sticky mucus that doesn’t drain well, allowing your nose to become a breeding ground for bacteria to grow. 1, 5, 6

How to Prevent a Cold from Turning into a Sinus Infection

Recovering from a cold can leave you feeling frustrated, and the last thing you would want is the added worry of it turning into a sinus infection. This is because colds can weaken your immune system, making it easier for the sinus infection to take hold. To reduce the likelihood of your cold turning into a sinus infection, or to prevent a sinus infection, it is important to be proactive. Some tips include: 7,8

Keeping clean: avoid infections by keeping your hands clean. Do not touch your face unnecessarily and with unwashed hands

Avoid allergens: the last thing you’d want is your allergies to flare up while you are having a cold. To ensure your cold is not aggravated, stay home, avoid allergy triggers, and allow yourself time to fully recover.

Avoiding pollutants: anyone can develop a sinus infection. However, those who suffer from allergies such as hay fever, and those who smoke or are in constant exposure to air pollutants like cigarette smoke, are more prone to experiencing irritation and inflammation in their lungs and nasal passageways.

Visiting the doctor if necessary: If your cold symptoms continue or worsen or you notice the signs of an infection beginning in your sinuses, consider a visit to the doctor. Your doctor may be able to prescribe medications or other treatments to prevent or treat the infection.

How to Treat a Cold

If you are dealing with a cold, there are plenty of home remedies that can help bring temporary relief to your symptoms. These include: 9

  • Increasing fluid intake: staying hydrated can help soften, thin, and loosen secretions such as mucus and phlegm
  • Humidified air: replenish moisture in the air to keep your sinuses from drying out and to enhance drainage of congested upper airways
  • Honey: a good anti-inflammatory agent that can help soothe dry and irritated throat caused by the common cold
  • Vitamin C: used as a dietary supplement to strengthen your body’s natural defense and immune system to aid recovery

Additionally, you can always look to supplement home remedies with over-the-counter (OTC) medication. If you suffer from sinus pain, nasal congestion, headaches, or fever, you can trust BENYLIN® Cold & Sinus DAY/NIGHT Tablets for fast and effective relief. You can also look to BENYLIN® Extra Strength Mucus & Phlegm if you suffer from sore throat, body aches, chest congestion, and mucus and phlegm. These medications come in portable and convenient tablets, making it easy to grab, go, and use whenever you need it.



BENYLIN® products are indicated for the temporary relief of symptoms associated with colds and flu. BENYLIN® is not indicated for treatment of sinus infections. If you are unsure about your symptoms, or you suspect you have another underlying health issue, please visit your local doctor for a full diagnosis.

To be sure any BENYLIN® product is right for you, always read and follow the label.

IMPORTANT: Take ONLY ONE medicine at a time containing acetaminophen.

© Johnson & Johnson Inc. 2021

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