Sinus Infections, Sinusitus

Sinusitis vs. Sinus Infection: What’s the Difference?

April 27, 2023

5 minutes

Reviewed by Michael Kaplan, MD

How can you tell the difference between sinusitis vs. sinus infection? Sinus infections are one of the most common illnesses Houstonians may face, largely owing to the humid climate and abundant pollen count. However, many other factors could still trigger a sinus infection including flying, stress, and infections elsewhere in the body, and they can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or overall health. 

Sporadic and short sinus infections may be a regular part of anyone’s life, particularly here in Texas, but recurring, long-running, and/or untreated sinus infections may indicate chronic sinusitis, a more severe condition that sometimes requires surgical intervention.

How can you tell if your sinus infections are normal or a signifier of something worse? The ultimate answer to what constitutes sinusitis vs. sinus infection all comes down to the length of the illness.

What’s the difference between chronic sinusitis and a sinus infection?

Although they share symptoms, not all sinus infections are necessarily going to manifest in the same way. When a sinus infection runs for up to (or more than) eight weeks with moderate to severe symptoms throughout the entire duration, you may actually be dealing with chronic sinusitis symptoms. This condition is characterized by frequent, long-lasting, and/or recurrent sinus infections. 

How long do sinus infections last?

A typical sinus infection lasts around one to two weeks — not too long in the grand scheme of things — but when you’re sick, this span of time can still feel like a lifetime. 

Patients seeking relief for sinus infections frequently ask us, “Do I need antibiotics for a sinus infection?” While you can treat a “normal” sinus infection using antibiotics, most of the time it isn’t even required. In fact, sometimes small lifestyle adjustments, over-the-counter medication, and supplementary home remedies are all you need to treat your sinus headaches and help alleviate your symptoms. 

Can a sinus infection go away on its own?

Most sinus infections typically clear up on their own over time — or heal up faster with nothing more intense than over-the-counter medications. Chronic sinusitis, however, can lead to further complications if left untreated. Sinusitis treatment, including surgery, if necessary, provides far more lasting relief and saves some time finding all the right items at the pharmacist. 

In fact, chronic sinusitis is one of the major reasons to get balloon sinuplasty for those looking for a long-term solution to their sinus issues. Balloon sinuplasty is a minimally-invasive outpatient procedure that takes around 30 minutes and involves only localized anesthesia. Many patients enjoy lasting results and are no longer burdened with sinus symptoms. 

How can I tell if I have a sinus infection?

Before you try to gauge whether or not you have regular or chronic sinusitis, it’s important to establish that you actually have a sinus infection in the first place, rather than the flu, a viral illness, or one of the many bacterial infections with similar symptoms to sinusitis. 

The following are typical symptoms of a sinus infection:

  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Headaches
  • Sinus pain
  • Thick, cloudy, and/or green nasal discharge
  • Postnasal drip
  • Congestion
  • Nausea
  • Bad breath
  • Jaw and tooth pain
  • Ear pain 
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced smell and taste
  • Tenderness around the face, particularly the eyes and nose

If these symptoms are accompanied by a fever and disappear after two weeks, it’s more likely that you’ve actually had a cold or the flu rather than a sinus infection. However, if your symptoms persist for longer than two weeks and/or return on a regular basis, you may be suffering from chronic sinusitis. 

Keep in mind that there are no symptoms that distinguish chronic sinusitis from a sinus infection. Rather, it’s the length of time a sinus infection lasts or the consistent resurgence of sinus infections within a short span. A sinus specialist will be able to determine whether or not you’re experiencing sinusitis vs. sinus infection or another condition, as well as what surgical and non-surgical options may be available as treatment. 

Get quality chronic sinusitis treatment in Houston from Kaplan Sinus Relief

If your sinus infections last for too long or you’re experiencing a consistent resurgence of sinus infections within a short span of time, you may be an ideal candidate for balloon sinuplasty or another chronic sinusitis surgery option we offer at Kaplan Sinus Relief. We’re also available to help diagnose sinusitis vs. sinus infection and provide insight into the best possible path toward healing.

There’s no need to continue waiting for your symptoms to go away. Get the care and freedom from pain that you deserve and contact us today to schedule your appointment.

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This article has been reviewed and approved by Michael Kaplan, MD


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Houston, TX 77098