Cold vs. Sinus Infection

One of the most frequent complaints that patients have during the winter months is the common cold. Runny nose, stuffy head, headache, coughing, and fatigue seem to plague everyone at some point between September and April. But how do you know if your cold is more than a cold? And when should you seek treatment for those cold symptoms?

We’ll break it down for you and share the symptoms and common treatments, as well as let you know when you should go to your local walk-in or urgent care clinic. Keep this handy guide close by to help you navigate the cold season.

The Common Cold

Referred to as “rhinitis” in the medical world, the common cold is something just about everyone deals with at some point. Colds are viral, meaning treatments like antibiotics will not work. So what do you do if you have a cold? Treat the symptoms.

These are the most common symptoms of a cold:

  • Cough
  • Sore Throat
  • Fever
  • Stuffy Head
  • Runny Nose
  • Sneezing
  • General achiness
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

Treating a Cold

When you have a cold, you need to treat the symptoms and take steps to make yourself more comfortable. Most doctors recommend overt-the-counter medications:

  • Pain Reliever–This will help with general achiness, any inflammation, headaches, and in most cases the fever. The most commonly used/recommended are Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil, or Motrin (both ibuprofen).
  • Decongestant–You can find decongestants in tablet form or nasal spray. If you use a nasal spray, be extra cautious and only use for 2-3 days. Using a nasal spray decongestant for longer than 3 days can cause rebound congestion and make the symptoms worse and harder to treat.

Some healthcare providers recommend using a nasal irrigation system like a neti pot or saline rinse. This can be effective at helping your body rid itself of the excess mucus that comes along with colds. (It’s important to follow manufacturer directions with these systems.)

When you have a cold, you should also increase your fluid intake and get plenty of rest. Warm, clear fluids can help thin mucus secretions and be soothing for sore throats and head congestion.

Sinus Infections

Sinus infections have the same symptoms as colds but with a few notable differences. In addition to the sniffles, sore throat, and cough, you may also experience:

  • Pain around the eyes and/or cheekbones
  • Upper jaw or tooth pain
  • Green or dark yellow mucus
  • Fever that remains for over 3 days, even with acetaminophen treatment
  • Chills

If you notice these additional symptoms, it’s time to get it checked out!

Sinus Infection Treatment

Sinus infections are usually bacterial in nature which means you will need antibiotics in addition to the standard treatment of your cold symptoms. Your doctor will likely have you continue taking over-the-counter remedies for pain and fever as well as decongestants, extra fluids, and rest.

When Should You Go to Urgent Care?

You should go to an urgent care facility or walk-in clinic when you start to feel the signs of an infection. If you have symptoms for more than 3 days while taking fever reducing medications, if you are coughing up phlegm, or having any trouble breathing, you should go to urgent care for treatment. The sooner you can start a prescription of antibiotics the sooner you will feel better.

Are you experiencing the symptoms of a sinus infection? Check in here to skip the waiting room and be seen when it’s most convenient for you—for both Lakeland and Winter Haven Owl Now Urgent Care locations.



This article provides information on general health and health-related subjects. The information and other content provided by this article, or in any linked references, is not intended as a substitute for professional medical expertise and should not be used to replace the advice of your own healthcare provider.

If you or any other person under your care has a medical concern, consult with your health care provider or seek professional medical treatment. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something read in this article or in any linked materials.

If you think you are experiencing a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 for immediate emergency services.