What’s the Difference Between the Flu and Sinusitis?


In recent posts, you have learned how to differentiate the flu from pharyngitis (throat infection). How does sinusitis differ from the flu? Let’s use some of the content from iTriage to learn about sinusitis and start to figure this out. Please see our previous posts or iTriage to learn more specific details about the flu.


The sinuses are cavities in the facial portion of the skull, and lined by mucosa. Sinusitis is the inflammation or infection of these sinuses. It develops most frequently in the maxillary sinuses (under the eyes) and the ethmoid sinuses. In more serious infections the infection can involve the bone (osteomyelitis). Rarely the infection can extend into the brain and be life threatening.


Pain in the face, cough, fatigue, fever, headache, pain behind the eyes, toothache, facial tenderness, nasal congestion and discharge, sore throat, and postnasal drip.


A history and physical exam will be performed. At times a CT scan may be done.

Standard Workup:

– CT Scan


Sinus infections caused by viruses do not require antibiotics but are treated with: acetaminophen (Tylenol), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications/NSAIDs (ibuprofen/Motrin or Advil, naproxen/Naprosyn), and decongestants. Bacterial sinusitis will be treated with antibiotics including: amoxicillin (Amoxil), cefaclor (Ceclor), levofloxacin (Levaquin), loracarbef (Lorabid), clarithromycin (Biaxin), azithromycin (Zithromax), or sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (Bactrim, Septra).

The hallmark of sinusitis is pain over the sinuses, nasal congestion and discharge, and fever. Most cases do not involve chills, muscle aches, or cough; all of which are common with the flu.

The most definitive way to determine the difference between the flu and sinusitis is to get a flu swab test and either a physical exam suggestive of sinus pain, or a CT scan to visualize the sinus cavities and see if they are filled with fluid. These tests can be found at urgent care clinics, emergency departments, or with referral from your primary care doctor’s office. You can use iTriage to find these providers anywhere in the United States.

If you’d like to avoid the flu altogether, you can get a convenient and affordable flu shot at Healthcare Clinics at select Walgreens. You can easily book a Walgreens appointment through iTriage online or on your smartphone.

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