Decoding Your Symptoms

Similar symptoms often plague those who suffer from a range of problems, from the simple allergy to the potentially dangerous flu. The solution to each varies. While one medicine may take similar pains away, such as a sore throat or a cough, getting to the core of the problem is necessary to treat the real affliction. Below is an explanation of the symptoms that accompany each health problem, and the best way to go about treating it.


Allergies can often be an easy explanation for people who think that they get colds more often than most people. If you find that you are sniffling frequently with clear or whitish, thin mucus or sneezing, and having burning or itchy feelings in your eyes, your probably have allergies. If these symptoms occur around the same time every year, it is likely that you have seasonal allergies. Two symptoms that are never associated with allergies are aches/pains and fever. Treatment options for allergies include over-the-counter antihistamines such as Claritin and Zyrtec, as well as prescription-strength antihistamines and nasal sprays. Decongestants can also be used to treat symptoms. Your doctor can test for allergies, but if an antihistamine clears up your symptoms it is likely that allergies are the culprit.

Sinus Infections

Some people are particularly prone to sinus infections, which can also be related to allergies and common colds as well. Sinusitis is an inflammatory disorder which causes people to get frequent sinus infections. The following symptoms indicate a sinus infection, rather than allergies: fever; bad breath; headache; pressure in cheeks, forehead or eyes; stuffy nose and yellow or green thick mucus with symptoms that last a week and a half or longer. May sinus infections clear up on their own, but they sometimes require antibiotics if the infection is a bacterial infection. Sudafed with ibuprofen helps relieve the symptoms and clear nasal passages, but a doctor should definitely be seen if symptoms last longer than two weeks.

Viruses: The Common Cold

Viruses, also referred to as colds, have a variety of symptoms including a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, fever, cough, aches, headache and earache. Symptoms are almost always worst in the nasal passage and are usually contained almost entirely in the head. In the first couple days, nasal discharge will be clear or watery, but will quickly turn thick and yellow or green. The cold usually lasts about a week, with a sore throat or cough lasting as much as a week longer than the other symptoms. Antibiotics do not work against the common cold, as antibiotics are intended to eliminate bacteria, not viruses. Bacteria and viruses have completely different structures, so antibiotics have no effect on viruses. In fact, taking antibiotics when you do not have a bacterial infection can actually be wore for you, as it kills beneficial bacteria in your body that helps fight viruses and it leads to resistant bacteria – bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics. The best course of action when you have a cold is to rest a lot, drink lots of water, take Tylenol and gargle with salt water. Decongestants such as Sudafed help clear the nasal passage, and medications such as DayQuil address symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, coughing and congestion.

Influenza: The Flu

The flu is caused by the influenza virus. The flu is usually accompanied by a high fever, body aches and exhaustion. Many people experience vomiting as well. After a couple of days, symptoms such as those of a common cold develop as well, including sore throat, cough, nasal congestion, headache and ear infection. All of the symptoms are gone usually within a week or so, except for the exhaustion and cough, which can last for weeks. The flu can be prevented with a flu vaccine. Treatment of a flu is generally the same as a cold.

Bacteria: Pneumonia and Bronchitis

Bacterial infections sometimes follow a cold or the flu. Pneumonia develops when bacteria or viruses in the nasal cavity enter the lungs. The lungs then fill up with fluid. People with pneumonia develop a high fever, shaking and chills and a mucusy cough as well as difficulty breathing. Some patients have a cough that slowly gets worse, as well as headaches and muscle aches. Bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics, but viral pneumonia usually subsides with time and can be treated as a common cold.

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the air passages in the lungs, often due to a bacterial infection but sometimes due to a virus. Bronchitis usually develops after a cold, and symptoms include a fever, chills, aches, congestion, sore throat, coughing and shortness of breath. Mucus may be present in the cough, but if there is a lot of mucus, this is usually indicative of pneumonia. Bronchitis frequently clears up on its own, but if the cough is severe it is advisable to see a doctor for a prescription.

When to See a Doctor

Some people rush to the doctor over the smallest sniffle, while others wait until their situation is very dangerous to their health. If it seems like you just have a cold, rest and relaxation – as well as over-the-counter medicines to treat symptoms – should be enough and it will usually clear up on its own. If you suspect that you may have pneumonia or bronchitis, a doctor can prescribe medications to help clear the infection if it is a bacterial infection. A doctor can also prescribe anti-histamines for allergies, if over-the-counter antihistamines don't seem strong enough. Frequent or sever sinus infections could be cause to see a doctor as it may indicate sinusitis, in which case your doctor can prescribe preventative nasal sprays and antibiotics or surgery to improve drainage. Always see a doctor is you have severe difficulty breathing, if you cough up blood or rust-colored mucus, or if symptoms last longer than two weeks.