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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

6 Reasons Why Your Cold Lingers

Why Your Cold Won't Go Away, and What to Do About it
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4. Treating the Wrong Illness

The common cold can easily lead to and be confused with other ailments, such as sinus infections or allergies. Often, people convinced they’ve been suffering with a cold for a few weeks may not realize that they aren’t getting better because they’ve been treating the wrong illness.

It's quite common to confuse allergies with a cold, says Katona, because allergies typically have symptoms that are the same as or at least very similar to a cold. There are a few ways to tell the difference between the two, however.

Cold symptoms typically manifest from the neck up, and they usually peak after a few days. Allergies, on the other hand, can present as a low-grade, persistent set of symptoms. Although allergies and colds can both cause a cough, runny nose and sneezing, they part ways at muscle aches, fatigue, and decreased appetite, which would all be more symptomatic of a cold than allergies.

One good way to distinguish between a cold and allergies, Rogg says, is to take an antihistamine. "If you take a Claritin and suddenly feel a world better, then it’s probably an allergy."

Another concern, Rogg says, is that a cold disrupts the normal protective barrier of the body, making you more susceptible to secondary infections. "You hear very often that a person got a cold, started to feel better and then got worse," he says. "That’s usually a sign that they’re super-infected with some other organism; typically bacteria."

One possible reason why your cold symptoms may be lingering is that you have a sinus infection, a common development in people who have had a cold for some time. Katona says it’s the mucus trapped in your nasal passages and not draining for a period of time -- whether because of a cold or allergies - that leads to infections in the sinuses. 

Sinus infections can be difficult to diagnose, particularly in the early stages of infection. There are some telling signs, however, if you know what to look for.

With a sinus infection, you’re more likely to experience facial pain, a headache, fever, and green or yellow nasal discharge as opposed to clear. "That’s usually when an antibiotic is needed," Rogg says.

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