Just about everyone experiences an occasional runny nose and nasal congestion, often without knowing the cause.

“It’s common for patients to describe any nasal congestion and drainage as a sinus infection but these conditions are common to other conditions too,” said doctor Quoc Le, board-certified family medicine physician.

A cold or flu is the likely diagnosis if you have a friend or relative with similar symptoms, as both are infections caused by highly contagious viruses. Patients with a cold may have a sore throat and fever with nasal drainage that has a color. Some achiness and fatigue are common. Typically a cold will go away in four to six days.

Flu, caused by a number of viral strains, usually has more severe symptoms and potentially more serious consequences, including pneumonia. Patients often have a high fever with intense body aches and fatigue and may be sick longer than the four to six days of a typical cold, according to Dr. Le.

The recommended treatment for both colds and flu is similar: rest, fluids and over the counter cold or pain medicine. Treatment for the flu can include antiviral medication, if given within 3 days of symptom onset. Sinus problems are caused by a bacterial infection resulting from a blockage that prevents one or more sinuses from draining. Patients experience severe facial pain near the area of infection.

“With an acute sinus infection, patients are likely to have a fever and need antibiotics,” said Dr. Le.

While allergies also typically result in nasal inflammation, they are not caused by an infection but result from an individual’s sensitivity to certain substances including foods, pets, plants, and environmental materials. Allergies can be seasonal or year-round. They can be treated with medications or injections to desensitize the individual to allergic substances. Some allergic individuals also develop asthma, a chronic, potentially serious respiratory condition.

There is a seasonal aspect to colds and flu, which are more common in the fall and winter. For allergic individuals, avoiding the substances that trigger allergies and using preventive medication are essential. Treating allergies and colds will reduce the chance of a sinus problem.

Dr. Quoc Le is board-certified in family practice and has over 17 years of experience. He is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He completed his residency training at the Memorial Family Practice Residency Program here in Houston. Dr. Le has been in practice in the area for over 14 years and is happy to continue to serve our community. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Le, call (832) 698-4377.