Your head is throbbing, and your face feels like it is being squeezed in a vice. Is it sinuses or a cold? And more importantly how do you get to feeling better?

This time of year, it’s difficult to tell between a cold, allergies or a sinus infection, says Devin Minior, MD, chief medical officer at Banner Urgent Care, which has locations throughout metro Phoenix and Tucson.

“During the winter season, we see those viral illnesses. (For sinus infection), it’s a lot like the symptoms of a common cold: cough, congestion, sometimes sore throat, sometimes fever,’’ Minior said.

“But then you get some involvement of the sinuses, facial pain, sometimes sneezing, really bad nasal congestion and sometimes a worsening cough associated with that.’’

If it is a sinus infection, chances are great that it is viral sinus infection, he said. “The vast majority, like 98 percent of the time, are going to be viral infections,’’ he said. Unlike bacterial sinus infections, viral sinus infections can’t be treated by antibiotics. They usually last ten days, Minior said.

No matter if it is allergies or sinus infection, the treatment may be the same, Minior said. Here’s some important things to keep in mind:

  • Treatment: Providers will try control your mucous production and reduce your pain and may prescribe antihistamines, nasal sprays or some forms of steroids. Patients looking for over-the-counter relief should consider a neti pot, which provides saline irrigation of the sinuses and can benefit allergies and viral sinusitis, Minior said.
  • Decongestant rebound: “Typically, we say use them (decongestants) for a maximum of three days,’’ Minior said. “Sometimes there can be a rebound effect and it can actually cause some additional swelling of the sinuses, which at times can make things worse.’’
  • Color of your mucous: Green or yellow mucous is a sign of inflammation but it is hard to determine the type of infection by the color of your mucous, Minior said. (Yellow or green mucous) just says “Hey, something is going on most likely, it is going to be an infection.’’