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How to Tell the Difference Between a Cold, Flu and Allergies

Regardless of the cause, sinus pressure and pain can stop you in your tracks. How do you know the cause, and when do you see a doctor? While the common cold, the flu and allergies all have similar sinus symptoms, not all require a visit to your doctor’s office. Here’s a closer look at what separates the three:

Sinus Infections

Sinus and respiratory infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria. Viral infections just need to run their course, and will pass with time. Bacterial infections often get worse as time progresses. It is very possible for a viral cold or flu to turn into a bacterial infection, though.

If a viral infection, cold or flu lasts two weeks, it is likely that bacteria has set up shop and will need to be treated with antibiotics. Frequent sinus infections may indicate a bigger problem, and you should see an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist to determine the cause and find a treatment to prevent future problems.

Should You Go to Work or School?

Sinus problems caused by allergies are not infectious, and while you may not feel 100%, it is safe to continue normal activities. If a fever is present, it is safe to assume you are contagious, and should wait 24 hours after the fever breaks to return to work and school.

Ramie A. Tritt, MD, President, Atlanta ENT

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