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What Do I Have: Allergies, a Cold or a Sinus Infection?

When you get sick in the winter, it’s hard to know whether you’re suffering from allergy symptoms, a cold or a sinus infection. Here’s how to tell the difference.

A cold

What to look for

  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sneezing or green/yellow mucus
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen sinuses
  • Fever

What causes it

A virus

How long it lasts

7-10 days

How to treat it

Because a cold is a virus, antibiotics won’t help, so you want to treat the symptoms instead. Your pharmacist should be able to direct you to the appropriate over-the-counter medicines. All colds benefit from plenty of fluids and rest, and some sufferers find relief using sinus irrigation.


Sinus infection

What to look for

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Bad breath
  • Mucus drainage (yellow/green)
  • Headache that gets worse when you lean forward or lie down
  • Tender face and neck or pressure behind the eyes and cheeks
  • Runny/stuffy nose lasting more than a week
  • Decreased sense of smell or taste

What causes it

Infected nasal passages. Most often these are caused by a virus, bacteria or allergies, but infections can also be brought on by colds or asthma.

How long it lasts

7-10 days

How to treat it

Again, treat the symptoms. If your condition doesn’t improve in 7-10 days, see your doctor.

  • You may be suffering a bacterial sinus infection, which can be treated with an antibiotic.
  • If you suffer from chronic sinusitis, you may find relief using a nasal spray that contains capsaicin, which can help keep nasal passages clear and prevent infection.

Allergies

What to look for

  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose (clear, watery discharge)
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy nose or eyes
  • No fever

What causes it

Allergens, the most common of which are:

  • Mold, dust and animal dander (indoors)
  • And pollen and ragweed (outdoors)

How long it lasts

  • Indoors: If the allergens are indoors and you don’t change your environment, you may experience symptoms year-round
  • Outdoors: Seasonal allergies typically last through the spring or fall

How to treat it

Identify and avoid your allergy triggers and avoid irritants such as smoke or pollution. If your symptoms are serious, a doctor may recommend allergy shots to desensitize you over time.

You can also try these 5 natural remedies for allergies.

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville). As Content Producer/Writer at bohan Advertising, she is a writer, editor and social media strategist.

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WellTuned provides inspiration and practical advice for healthy living.
WellTuned does not offer medical advice. Any personal health questions should be addressed to your doctor.

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