A stuffy nose and headache are common symptoms of allergies, as well as many illnesses. So how can you tell whether the culprit is a sinus infection, a common cold, or allergies when the symptoms of these three conditions are so similar?
It can sometimes be difficult even for doctors to differentiate, but there are some key differences that can give you some clues to what is causing your congestion.
Sinus congestion can cause an aching sensation and a feeling of fullness in the middle of your face. A sinus infection may also be accompanied by other symptoms like post-nasal drip, green (or yellow) nasal discharge, aching in your teeth, fever, bad breath, and sinus pressure or a headache that worsens when you lean forward or lie down. Your face may also feel tender, and upon examination, a doctor should be able to see pus draining near the sinuses.
Causes: Bacteria or viruses trigger sinus infections. Colds, allergies, asthma, and other health conditions can also cause them.
Duration Sinus infections may clear up on their own without treatment, but some might require medication. If your symptoms last for longer than seven to 10 days, your doctor may consider prescribing antibiotics.
With the common cold you can expect a stuffy nose, but also some runny, discolored mucus. You may also experience a sore throat, cough, sneezing, headache, or fatigue.
Another sign is a rising temperature: Colds often trigger a fever, but sometimes those fevers are so mild that people think they have allergies instead.
Cause: A virus.
- Duration: People usually fend off the cold virus (without treatment) within seven to 10 days. But if your symptoms have lingered past that window of time, you might have sinusitis. If you suspect you have a sinus infection, you should talk to your doctor.
You may experience some nasal congestion with allergies, but it usually accompanies a runny nose (clear, watery discharge), sneezing, and itchy nose and eyes. One big key clue– allergies do NOT cause a fever.
Causes: Allergens cause an allergic reaction. Common indoor allergens include mold, dust, and animal dander, while outdoor triggers include pollen and ragweed.
- How long it lasts: If you have seasonal allergies, you may struggle with allergy symptoms throughout the spring and fall. If you’re allergic to indoor allergens, you may experience symptoms year-round.
How to Treat Congestion
Because sinus infections, colds, and allergies share some similar symptoms, including congestion, medications like nasal sprays, oral antihistamines, and eye drops can help minimize your discomfort.
If allergies are to blame, do your best to avoid your known triggers and steer clear of any other potential irritants, such as smoke or air pollution. Long-term treatments like immunotherapy (allergy shots) can help desensitize you to allergens and improve symptoms over time.
If the culprit of your congestion is allergies or a cold, it doesn’t mean you won’t develop a sinus infection later on. Both cause the lining of those nose to swell, preventing proper mucus drainage. Be on the lookout for the symptoms of sinus infections, and treat them promptly.