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Is it a Cold, Sinus Infection or Allergies?

You can’t stop blowing your nose and your eyes are super itchy. Is it a common cold, sinus infection or spring allergies?

The three conditions can sometimes mimic each other but there are specific symptoms that are unique to each. And the best course of treatment is different for each condition.

Common cold

When you come down with a common cold, chances are your symptoms will include fever, body aches and sore throat, in addition to typical allergy symptoms such as nasal congestion and a runny nose. Colds are caused by a virus, which means antibiotics are not effective in treating the condition. Your best course of treatment usually includes taking over-the-counter cough syrups and pain relievers and getting plenty of rest. Symptoms typically clear up within 7-10 days.

Sinus infections

People often mistake colds for sinus infections but the two are different. A sinus infection is usually not diagnosed unless symptoms have been present for 7-10 days. These symptoms may include nasal congestion, nasal discharge, sore throat, and pressure around the eyes, forehead, cheek and nose areas. Unlike the common cold, sinus infections can be successfully treated with antibiotics.

Interestingly, if you get a sinus infection, you may be more prone to get another one later on. That’s because sinus infections aren’t necessarily caused by an infection – they are often due to inflammation in the sinuses. Over time, inflammation increases and leads to infection. So the goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation. If antibiotics are not effective, steroid treatment through oral or nasal sprays may be prescribed. In severe cases of sinusitis, medical management can include oral steroids, allergy medications and antibiotics directed to your specific infection. Rarely, when medications don’t help, surgical options are considered. You and your doctor can design the best treatment plan for you. Be sure to connect with your health insurance provider before starting treatment.

Seasonal allergies

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you’ll likely start noticing symptoms as the grass grows, trees pollenate and flowers bloom. Symptoms are typically focused to the nose and mouth area and may include nasal congestion, stuffy nose, pressure around the face and ears, itchy and water eyes, and even an itchy sensation on the roof of the mouth. Typically allergy symptoms first develop during childhood, and it is unusual for older adults to suddenly develop allergies.

Many people are able to manage their allergy symptoms with over-the-counter antihistamine medications. However, to address the underlying allergy response, you’ll need to see an allergist and consider immunotherapy. Even if you decide not to undergo immunotherapy, seeing an allergist can greatly improve your quality of life by helping you determine exactly what you’re allergic to so you can take precautions to avoid those substances.