Allergies, Colds and Sinus Infections: Know the Difference

April 18, 2013


Sinus Infections

Sinus Infections

Allergies. Colds. Sinus infections. They all present with the same symptoms, but they’re very different ailments. You can’t throw sinus medication at an allergy and expect it to work. Likewise, allergy meds are no match for a cold. The way to prevent, diagnose, and treat each one varies greatly.


There are so many things that can trigger an allergy attack that the best way to diagnose it is to see your doctor. If you know you have allergies, prevention usually consists of taking allergy medication before allergy season or when you know you’ll be exposed to triggers. Sometimes, diet can help with prevention but it’s no guarantee.

Symptoms are easy to spot: you’ll have itchy, watery, eyes, runny or stuffy nose, and you’ll feel achy or tired. When you’ve ruled out cold and sinus infections, it’s time to see your doctor for allergy treatment.

Once you’ve made the decision to visit the doctor, he will run various allergy tests. He may also run a food sensitivity test to rule out any hyper-reactivity or delayed immune reaction to foods you eat on a regular basis. Finally, you may be required to start an elimination diet and keep an allergy diet to help pinpoint exact triggers for your allergies.

Treatment usually consists of antihistamines and decongestants. Because there’s no bacterial infection, there’s no way to treat allergies with antibiotics. Prevention is sometimes a matter of avoiding triggers but, if you’re allergic to pollen, then there’s not much you can do aside from staying inside and keeping the air filter running on the highest setting.


Colds are caused by a few different types of viruses. In the winter, it’s usually the result of a rinovirus, coronavirus, or a parainfluenza virus. In the summer, you can add enterovirus to the list. Typical cold symptoms mimic allergies: runny or stuffy nose, congestion, itchy, and watery, eyes. You’ll also typically have a fever that’s accompanied by a cough or a headache. You’ll feel tired or run down, and you may be “foggy-headed.”

Diagnosis is pretty simple. If you have most of these symptoms, you probably have a cold. If you know that you’re not allergic to anything, you have a few options. You can wait it out or go see the doctor. If your symptoms don’t start to improve after a few days, consider going to the doctor’s office.

There’s still no cure for the common cold. The best the doctor will be able to do for you is to prescribe cough medicines, decongestants, antihistamines, nasal sprays, and maybe some pain medication.

If you want to reduce your risk of getting the cold or flu, stay away from other people who are sick. Keep disinfecting wipes around when you go out into public places and clean your hands before you touch your face (i.e. before you eat, rub your eyes, touch your mouth, etc.).

Sinus Infections

A common symptom of a sinus infection is pain. You may have a terrible headache, pain in your upper jaw or teeth, or some tenderness on your nose or between your eyes. You may also expel thick mucus from your nose that is yellow or greenish in color. It may also be white or blood-tinged. It may be difficult to clear your throat and you may suffer from sever fatigue or even a fever.

Usually sinus infections don’t last long. You can use antihistamines and decongestants to make your life bearable. Simple pain medication can also help with any headaches or inflammation in your sinuses. Forget about antibiotics. They won’t work unless the infection is caused by bacteria – which must be diagnosed by your doctor.

Avoiding sinus infections can be tricky. In general, stay away from anyone who has an infection as it’s usually caused by a virus. Sinus infections usually appear right after a cold, so make sure you stay well-rested until all of your cold symptoms have gone. It might even be wise to take a few days off after your cold has cleared just to be on the safe side.

Alicia Bell is a busy mom who also runs a small in-home daycare. When she finds the time, she loves to blog about medical and parenting issues.

Allergies, Colds and Sinus Infections: Know the Difference

This site is for information and support only and NOT a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment!
Allergies, Cold, Sinus Infections

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