Common colds, allergies, and sinus infections have similar symptoms that make it very difficult to identify which malady a person is suffering from. However, for some people who constantly feel sick, knowing what their symptoms mean could allow them to receive better healthcare. So, how can you tell the difference between a cold, allergies, and a sinus infection?

Dr. Lisa Liberatore, an otolaryngologist specializing in sinus and sleep issues at Totum Health, New York, explains the differences between these three maladies. If a patient has body aches, fevers, and other systemic symptoms, she states that these are not usually symptoms of allergies and can be indicative of an infection. Along with these symptoms, Dr. Liberatore explains that the longevity of the symptoms can further indicate if the infection is viral or bacterial. Some infections can start off as viral, but once seven to ten days pass, a patient may begin to have fits of heavy coughing or notice yellow or green mucus. Dr. Liberatore says that this is an indication that the infection has become bacterial. Despite being a bacterial infection, antibiotics tend to do little to help the patient. The best way to get over a cold or cold-like symptoms is often to just wait out the course of the infection, consume lots of fluids, and get lots of rest.

But, for some people, these cold-like symptoms never seem to go away. Dr. Liberatore explains that if the cold lasts for a long time, or tends to progress to something worse, that can be an indication of a structural problem. This structural problem is related to chronic sinusitis which affects a person’s quality of life tremendously, causing symptoms such as severe nasal congestion to lack of productivity. Dr. Liberatore states that many primary care physicians often provide their patients with two treatment options–antibiotics or surgery. However, she explains that there are many smaller treatments present today that can provide relief to the patient without having to undergo an intense surgery.


  • Dr. Lisa Liberatore, otolaryngologist specializing in sinus and sleep issues at Totum Health, New York

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