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Is it a Cold, Sinus Infection, or Allergies?

May 10, 2017

We’ve all been there: either complaining about how miserable our allergies are making us or desperately hoping that “it’s just allergies.” Regardless of which end of the spectrum you fall on, it’s good to know what’s what.

Naturally, the symptoms for each affliction -- cough, stuffy nose, runny nose, and headache -- are so similar, that it can be hard to tell if you’re suffering from sinusitis, a cold, or allergies. We’ll help you figure out which is which and help you determine when it’s time to schedule a trip to see the doctor.

What does a cold feel like?

You probably know exactly what a cold feels like, and if you’re the rare individual who has been lucky enough to have avoided the more than 200 different cold viruses, just pause for a moment and appreciate your good health and great fortune! But here’s what a cold feels like: you’ll probably have a simultaneously stuffy and runny nose, sore throat, cough, sneezing, headache, and fatigue. Some colds even cause a mild fever as your body naturally fights off the infection.

Most people can beat a cold in 7-10 days, but if your symptoms remain pretty intense after day 7, you may have a sinus infection.

What does a sinus infection (sinusitis) feel like?

Known in the medical community as sinusitis, a sinus infection occurs when your nasal cavities become inflamed and swollen. Sinusitis is caused by a virus and often lingers even after other upper respiratory symptoms (like a cold or allergies) have disappeared. In some rare instances, fungus or bacteria may even bring on a sinus infection. Frequent allergy sufferers, those with nasal polyps, or those who are suffering from a tooth infection are also susceptible to sinus infections.

There are two basic kinds of sinus infections: chronic sinusitis and acute sinusitis. Acute sinus infections are pretty brief and usually accompany a cold or allergy season. Infections lasting more than 8 weeks or recur frequently are considered chronic.

When your sinuses are compromised, sinus congestion can make your face feel sore and puffy and may even make your teeth hurt. And as much as you probably want to take a rest, sinus pressure usually gets worse when you lean forward or lie down.

The same can be said for allergies and colds, though, so if your sore face is accompanied by post-nasal drip, bad breath, fever and green, yellow-green, or yellow nasal discharge, and it’s been around for a couple of weeks (or you just can’t seem to shake it) then it’s time to call your doctor: you likely have sinus infection

What do allergies feel like?

Here we go again: you’re probably going to experience nasal congestion and a runny nose. This time, however, the discharge will be clear and watery. And instead of a sore, puffy face, you’ll probably have an itchy nose and eyes. Furthermore, allergies never cause a fever. So if you’re feverish, you probably either have a cold, the flu, or a sinus infection.

Allergies are caused by, well, an allergic reaction. Some may be triggered by indoor allergens like mold, dust, and animal dander while outdoor allergens include pollens from trees and grasses and ragweed.

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, settle in, you may be in for the long haul. Especially if you live in Middle Tennessee! In fact, in 2016, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation ranked Tennessee as one of the most challenging states to live in if you have allergies and Livestrong notes that “The most common offenders are mold spores, weed, and grass pollens. Spring is the worst time of the year in Tennessee for allergens, despite having an average pollen count.”

The news gets even worse for indoor allergy sufferers: you may experience symptoms year-round and should ask a doctor about your treatment options.

How to Treat Colds, Sinus Infections, and Allergies

Because colds, sinus infections, and allergies share similar symptoms, medications like nasal sprays, oral antihistamines, OTC allergy medications, and eye drops may help. If allergies are the culprit, try to avoid your triggers and potential irritants like smoke or smog.

For more information on colds, sinusitis, allergies or to schedule an appointment, contact OAT today.

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Topics: Sinus Infection, Cold, Allergies