The fall and winter months are prime times during the year for flu and sinus infections. Five to twenty percent of the US population gets the flu virus each year while 30 million Americans get sinus infections. The problem is that both diseases have similar symptoms which makes it difficult to discern between them, especially in the early stages.
Fever, body aches and fatigue are symptoms typically experienced with the flu.
- Sore throat & dry, irritating cough
- Body aches
- Fever greater than 102 degrees F
- Flushed color in your face
Sinus Infection Symptoms
Facial pain, nasal congestion and postnasal drip are seen with most sinus infections.
- Soar throat & coughing
- Eye pressure and pain
- Facial pain leaning forward
- Yellowish-greenish nasal mucus
- Nasal congestion
- Bad breath
- Runny nose
Is It the Flu or a Sinus Infection? Quick Answers.
Have a fever?
The flu causes temperature spikes. It’s rare to have a fever with a sinus infection. If you do, the temperature is usually low grade.
With a sinus infection, aches are more focused in the facial region. With the flu, muscle aches spread throughout the body.
Have a cough?
A cough is possible with the flu and a sinus infection.
Have a sinus congestion or a runny nose?
Mucus is the key. Yellowish-greenish mucus typically indicates a sinus infection.
Felt sick for a while?
A sinus infection can last for weeks. The flu comes on strong but usually only takes a week to resolve itself. You feel more fatigued with the flu.
Feel dizzy or have nausea?
You can feel this way with both the flu and a sinus infection but you’ll feel worse with the flu.
How to Treat the Flu
- Decongestants – good for reducing nasal/chest congestion but should only be taken for a few days due to potential side effects. Consult with your doctor before taking.
- Antihistamines – good for a runny nose, postnasal drip, and itchy/watery eyes because they block histamines and relieve sneezing, itching and mucus buildup. Can make you drowsy. Consult with your doctor before taking.
- OTC medications – acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) treat fever and pain. Children should not take aspirin. Lozenges can help relieve a sore throat. Consult with your doctor before taking.
- Antiviral drugs – baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza), oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) can decrease the severity and duration of the flu.
- Antibiotics – cannot treat the flu which is caused by a virus. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections.
- Get the Flu Vaccine! – especially for children under 5 years of age. Children younger than five, and especially those younger than two years, are at high risk of serious flu-related complications.
What to Do If You Have a Sinus Infection
- OTC medications – acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can treat sinus pressure and headaches. Consult with your doctor before taking.
- Decongestants – Can reduce nasal congestion but should only be taken for a few days due to potential side effects. Consult with your doctor before taking.
- Allergy medications – Antihistamines can help with drying up a runny nose or postnasal drip. Consult with your doctor before taking.
- Nasal sprays – Nasal steroid and antihistamine sprays can be prescribed by your doctor to help with intranasal congestion and drainage. By reducing the swelling, these sprays can help the sinuses to drain and relieve pressure.
- Antibiotics – Can be prescribed by a physician if your physical exam shows signs of a bacterial infection.
- Steroids – Can be prescribed by a physician to reduce the swelling in your nose and sinuses.
- Surgery – Symptoms lasting for at least 3 months defines chronic sinusitis. If your symptoms continue despite the aforementioned treatments, you may be a candidate for surgery.
- Endoscopic sinus surgery – This is an outpatient procedure that offers safe, gentle and long-lasting relief. By using small instruments and endoscopes in the nose, the inflamed tissue is removed from the sinuses, restoring the natural drainage pathways and relieving symptoms.
- Balloon sinuplasty – This is an outpatient, office-based procedure that uses a small balloon to safely and effectively dilate the obstructed sinus passages to allow for natural drainage.