Experts say symptoms of the common cold generally come and go harder and faster than allergy-related symptoms that last an entire pollen season. That said, the initial treatments for chest and sinus congestion aren’t so terribly different. If you want to go the natural route, eating chicken soup and drinking extra fluids have both been proven to help clear clogged airways.
As for drugstore remedies, over-the-counter antihistamine sprays such as Afrin, Allerest, and Neo-Synephrine offer quick relief for nasal congestion caused by either condition, according to Dr. Jordan Pritikin, chief of otolaryngology at St. Joseph Hospital in Chicago. Just don’t get hooked! After 72 hours of continuous use, OTC antihistamine sprays lose their punch and can make congestion worse, even when the cold or allergy has resolved. “I’ve seen Afrin ‘addicts’ using the spray six times a day and getting only 15 minutes of relief each time,” says Pritikin. When symptoms linger, doctors can check for underlying problems and prescribe low-dose steroid sprays (Flonase, Nasonex, Veramyst, and others) that don’t cause rebound congestion.