How To Tell:

If You Have Sinusitis

Home Ear, Nose & Throat How To Tell If You Have Sinusitis

How To Tell If You Have Sinusitis

Sinus infections, or sinusitis, can be difficult to tell apart from the common cold or the flu. Sharing many symptoms, it is important you learn to differentiate between these ailments so that you can seek out the best care and treatment. At NW Face Medical, we specialize in sinus related problems, treatments, and surgeries. If it is determined that you are suffering from a chronic sinus problem, or need more extensive care, the sinus specialists at NW Face Medical in Kirkland can help you find the relief you desire.

What is sinusitis?

Sinusitis is a condition where the sinuses and their lining become inflamed. This can happen simply as a response to the common cold, or it can indicate a larger issue. Sinusitis can appear in many forms and have a variety of causes that impact the appropriate treatment and the care you need.

Sinusitis, while typically unconcerning, can cause symptoms that hinder your daily life and, in certain rare cases, be life threatening. The first step to identifying sinusitis is fully understanding the types and causes of sinusitis.


At NW Face Medical, our treatment and surgery plans typically provide state-of-the-art care to those with all types of sinusitis. The three types of sinusitis are: acute, subacute, and chronic. The severity and type of sinusitis you have will depend on the symptoms you experience and the length of time you have had sinusitis symptoms.  


Acute sinusitis is the type of sinus infection you typically get after a cold. This common type of sinusitis normally does not require specialist care and can be treated by your primary care doctor. However, recurrent acute sinus infections or extreme headaches or pain may require an appointment with an ENT specialist at NW Face Medical. 

This type is also most often the one mistaken for other illnesses, like the flu. Depending on the cause, acute sinusitis will usually clear on its own or with prescribed antibiotics. Symptoms can last up to four weeks.


Subacute sinusitis is similar to acute sinusitis, however, the symptoms last more than 4 weeks. If your symptoms have not responded to home remedies and medications, it may be time to come to NW Face Medical to find out if there is another underlying issue. 

Subacute sinus infections can mirror acute or chronic symptoms, however, acute and subacute sinusitis tend to have symptoms like a fever, headache, and dizziness.


Chronic sinusitis is when symptoms have persisted for at least 12 weeks and not responded to treatment. Often, the symptoms of chronic sinusitis are more subtle than those experienced with acute or subacute sinusitis (although it can start out as acute sinusitis). Chronic sinusitis is defined by nasal drainage, blockage, and coughing. Sometimes patients will complain of slight pressure around their eyes and cheeks (along where the sinus cavities are located), but the more significant pain experienced with acute or subacute sinusitis usually isn’t present. Patients may also experience a loss or decrease in their sense of smell which can be debilitating and frustrating.  

Treatment for chronic sinusitis typically starts off with more conservative methods. This can include nose sprays, antibiotics, home remedies, and over-the-counter medications, among others. These approaches are meant to help the sinuses drain naturally and function normally.

If these treatments do not work, you and your Kirkland ENT specialist may explore more aggressive and invasive treatment methods. This could include surgery, allergy shots, or others medicine and procedures, depending upon the specific cause of your chronic sinusitis.

Causes of Sinusitis

Sinusitis can have many different causes. This is one way that it is set apart from the flu or common cold, each which have viral causes. When you get a sinus infection, the cause is usually not readily apparent. Your doctor will often run tests to determine the exact cause of your sinus problems, so they can prescribe the appropriate treatment for you. 

Certain causes of sinusitis will not respond to treatment. For example, if you have viral sinusitis, antibiotics will likely have no effect. In this case, proper care and home remedies may help ease symptoms. 

Most of the time, you will not be able to tell what is causing your sinusitis without tests or a doctor’s visit. Once a doctor or ENT specialist determines the cause, your treatment plan will become more clear.


The bacteria that most commonly causes sinusitis is the same that causes strep throat. Bacterial sinusitis usually comes with a higher fever, which can make it hard to distinguish from the flu. In most cases, a bacterial sinus infection is easily treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, it can become a more serious infection or lead to chronic sinus problems.


Fungal sinus infections are rare, compared to their bacterial and viral counterparts. However, while rare, fungal sinusitis is one of the more serious types. Usually, fungal sinusitis is seen in those who are immuno-compromised or have other major conditions. 

It is difficult for fungi to take up residence in the sinuses, but once there, the sinuses provide an ideal environment for growth. Most of the time, this infection does not spread beyond the sinuses, but when it does, it can have devastating results. Fungal sinusitis usually requires sinus surgery to remove the fungi and infection manually. 


The viral form of a sinus infection typically starts off with an illness we are all familiar with: the common cold. A cold can often migrate into the sinuses or otherwise cause a sinus infection. Most of the time, viral sinusitis will not respond to antibiotics, but you may find some relief from over-the-counter cold or pain medications. 

This type can also easily become chronic sinusitis, with or without treatment. If you continue to have recurrent sinus infections that do not respond to any forms of conventional treatments, or your symptoms last more than 12 weeks, you may have chronic sinusitis and your doctor may refer you to a sinus specialist in Kirkland.  

Other Factors:

Along with the biological causes of sinusitis, other factors may make you more susceptible to developing sinus infections or chronic sinus problem. Your ENT specialist may perform a surgery to correct these or will advise the proper plan of action to best treat these factors. 

You May Be More Susceptible To Chronic Sinusitis If You: 

  • Have asthma or allergies
  • Are exposed to pollutants often
  • Have a structural problem of the nose (such as a deviated septum or crooked nose)
  • Are immuno-compromised
  • Have nasal polyps

These conditions often contribute to recurrent sinus infections and can lead to chronic sinus issues. If your ENT specialist hones in on one of these factors, they may offer treatment or surgical plans to target these causes and treat your chronic sinus issues.


Sinusitis, because it has a variety of causes, has symptoms that vary from patient to patient. Among the most common symptoms of include: 

  • Nasal drainage
  • Nasal discharge (often green or yellow)
  • Facial pain or pressure
  • Cough
  • Decreased sense of smell or taste
  • Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
  • Fatigue
  • Bad breath
  • Worsened asthma, bronchitis, or pneumonia

Other symptoms of sinusitis (although more common with acute include):

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Pain that hinders daily activities
  • Swelling
  • Fever
  • Muscle weakness (especially in the evening)
  • Ear problems (such as pressure or draining issues)
  • Jaw or tooth pain

When Is It Sinusitis vs. The Flu?

Looking at the symptoms of sinusitis, it may make sense why people often confuse their symptoms with the flu, especially during flu season. A sinus infection of any type can feel and look like the flu. When you’re achy, feeling tired, with a sore throat and a cough, sinus problems may not be the first diagnosis on your mind.

While sinusitis usually clears on its own, many susceptible to sinus problems may not find relief until seeking out a sinus specialist. For these individuals, it is important to distinguish between sinus problems and the flu. Also, considering the flu can be deadly, knowing to and going to a doctor can save lives and overall improve quality of life.

How To Tell?

There are many key ways to tell a sinus infection and the flu apart. While you can never be sure without a professional diagnosis, having a good understanding of your symptoms can help you find the care you need. Below, you can find the best ways to tell if you have sinusitis or the flu.

  • Longer lasting
  • Headaches normally concentrated around sinus cavities (cheeks, eyes, forehead, and sometimes the back of the head)
  • Cough only present at night
  • Sore throat often occurs with drainage
  • Fever not always present, normally low grade .
  • Usually resolves (or worsens) within a week
  • Headache can occur, but not specifically localized
  • Consistent and persistent cough
  • Dry sore throat
  • Body aches (although can experience facial pain as well)
  • Almost always experience a high fever

Cases of sinusitis vary highly depending on the person and causes. The ENT specialists at NW Face Medical work to customize treatment plans to help patients find life-long relief from their sinus problems. 

When Should I See A Kirkland Sinus Specialist?

It can be difficult to gauge when sinusitis is serious enough to visit our ENT specialist at NW Face Medical, Dr. Sunil Ummat. Sinus patients sometimes come through a referral from their primary care doctor, while others come when nothing else has worked. 

First, you must know if you have a sinus problem. Your primary care doctor can usually determine if sinusitis may be causing your issues, or, they can rule out that it is not the flu or other condition that presents similarly. Sometimes, you may be able to identify an underlying cause of prolonged symptoms, such as a deviated septum.

Once you are certain of your sinusitis, it is time to make an appointment with Dr. Sunil Ummat at NW Face Medical in Kirkland. 

Your Consultation

Coming in for your consultation, our ENT specialists will inquire about your symptoms and reasons for coming in. They will also want to know any previous treatments and medications you have tried to help determine the correct course of action for you. Dr. Ummat will then examine the area of your sinuses. 

Dr. Ummat may order tests like an endoscopic viewing of your sinuses or allergy testing to better understand your issues. He will then recommend remedies and treatments that may help you manage or find long-term relief from your sinusitis. 

Normally, Dr. Ummat will start out with conservative treatments and therapies to see if they improve your quality of life or provide sufficient relief. Before resorting to surgery, it is important to exhaust all other treatments to ensure that surgical intervention is necessary.

The Northwest’s Foremost Sinus Surgeons and Doctors

NW Face Medical has served sinus patients in the Northwest since 1983. Drs. Ummat and Allegra perform life changing sinus surgeries like endoscopic sinus surgery, balloon sinus surgery, and stealth sinus surgery. Chronic sinusitis and sinus problems require a trained ENT specialist to provide the best treatment. 

Dr. Ummat has over 15 years in ENT treatments and surgeries. He has performed over 6,000 endoscopic sinus and nasal surgeries. This experience and expertise allows him to accurately help you find the best treatment for your sinusitis. 

To schedule a consultation at NW Face Medical, call us at 425-522-0555. Chat using the icon on the lower right or Contact Us.

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