Cold, Flu or Sinus Infection

Sniffles, sneezes and sore throats are all common signs of colds, sinus infections and the flu. These diseases affect millions of Americans each year.

In fact:

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Americans have an average of two to three colds a year. Children often have more.

More than 12,000 people die each year due to complications from the flu.

More than 29 million Americans have sinus infections (also called sinusitis) or sinus-related problems each year.

Treating these conditions is challenging enough, but because they have so many similar symptoms, how can you tell them apart? Knowing the difference is important because it can determine the best course of treatment. We’ve provided this handy guide to help you. First, we look at the common symptoms of each illness and then examine the distinct differences between them.

Symptoms of a sinus infection include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Pain and swelling around the eyes, cheeks, nose or forehead
  • Pain that gets worse when leaning or bending over
  • Yellow or green discharge
  • Headache
  • Earache or sense of pressure in the ear
  • Bad breath
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

Chronic sinus problems are often caused by allergens although sometimes they may be caused by structural problems within the nose.

Cold symptoms include:

  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Headaches
  • Coughing
  • Body aches

There is no cure for the common cold, and unless you have a compromised immune system, you should fully recover within 7 to 10 days.

Flu symptoms include:

  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and body aches

How can you tell the difference between a sinus infection, the flu and the common cold?


Colds and sinus infections tend to build up and develop over time. The flu can develop within a few hours.


Sinus infections can last for more than a week. A cold will usually “peak” after three to five days before showing improvement. A reasonably healthy person will recover from the flu within two weeks.


Pain and pressure, particularly around the eyes, is indicative of a sinus infection.

  1. FEVER

A fever is typical of the flu or a sinus infection. Colds do not produce a fever.


Sweats and chills are indicative of the flu.


Sometimes the color of the nasal discharge gives a hint at the underlying problem. Clear mucus signifies a cold, while yellow or green indicates a sinus infection.


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