Headaches, stuffy nose, and congestion are common symptoms of allergies, sinus infections and a cold. With similar signs, it can be difficult to determine which one you have. 

It is important to note, both a cold and allergy can turn into a sinus infection. Both cause the lining of your sinus cavity and nose to swell, which makes it difficult for mucus to drain properly, which can lead to a sinus infection. 

Everyday Health reveals some key differences:

A Sinus Infection

What it feels like: 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, says Fuad M. Baroody, MD, a professor of surgery and pediatrics and director of pediatric otolaryngology at the University of Chicago Medicine and Biological Sciences in Chicago, Illinois.

What triggers it: Bacteria or viruses trigger sinus infections. Colds, allergies, asthma, and other health conditions can also cause them.

How long it lasts: 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.

A Cold

What it feels like: You can expect a stuffy nose, but also some runny, discolored mucus, Goldsobel explains. You may also experience a sore throat, cough, sneezing, headache, or fatigue. Another sign is a rising temperature: Colds often trigger a fever, he says, but sometimes those fevers are so mild that people think they have allergies instead.

What triggers it: A virus.

How long it lasts: People usually fend off the cold virus (without treatment) within seven to 10 days, Baroody says. 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.

An Allergic Reaction

What it feels like: You may experience some nasal congestion with allergies, but it usually accompanies a runny nose (clear, watery discharge), sneezing, and itchy nose and eyes.

What triggers it: 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.


Back to Blog

With 3 convenient locations across the Orlando area, we’re never far away.

Find your ENT Request Appointment
Contact us media
Accessibility: If you are vision-impaired or have some other impairment covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act or a similar law, and you wish to discuss potential accommodations related to using this website, please contact our Accessibility Manager at .
Close

*IMPORTANT UPDATE TO THE ELECTRONIC HEALTH RECORD (EHR) SYSTEM*

Learn More