Everyone has had a bout of sniffles every once in a while. For some, it can be a case of runny nose, where the mucus is thin, clear, and watery. In other times, your nose may be congested and stuffed with thick snot that is very hard to blow out.
Colds are caused by viruses infecting the nasal passages. The inflammation caused by the viruses lead to your symptoms. In contrast, in allergies, there are no viruses involved. Instead, your body reacts to substances called allergens. These are substances that are otherwise harmless, but nonetheless cause a defence reaction from your body. Part of these reactions is the swelling of blood vessels and the production of mucus in your nose.
It is important to know if nasal congestion is caused by allergies or colds, because the long-term treatment and prevention for allergies is very different from those of colds.
If you have a cold, just drink plenty of fluids and get some rest. You may take over-the-counter cold remedies, but do not take for more than three days. Also, do not take these medications if you have heart problems or high blood pressure.
If your cold is due to allergies, you may take over-the-counter anti-allergy medications such as once-daily cetirizine or loratidine (rarely, some people get drowsy from these medications, so driving or operating of heavy machinery is discouraged). However, it is also a good idea to visit your doctor for possible allergy testing to find out your other allergy triggers, so that you could later avoid them. Your doctor may also recommend prescription medications, depending on the severity of your symptoms.
Lastly, if you experience difficulty breathing, chest pains, difficulty in swallowing, or bleeding from the nose, go to the emergency room right away, since these symptoms may indicate a serious condition.