Should you chalk up those sniffles to cold and flu season? Not so fast! "Many women write off the symptoms of allergies, asthma, or a sinus infection," says Beth Corn, M.D., an assistant professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. And that can keep relief further away. Here's how to know whether what you're suffering are cold symptoms or allergy symptoms—and get the right treatment. Here's your symptom decoder:

1. You've gone through a box of tissues in three days!
"If things start to dry up after three or four days, chances are you have a cold," says James L. Sublett, M.D., chief of pediatric allergy at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. "With rest and plenty of fluids, you'll feel better on your own after about a week." Seasonal allergies, on the other hand, usually get progressively worse and can last for months.

Take action: Try an antihistamine, such as loratadine (Claritin), for allergy symptoms. This remedy prevents the action of histamine—a chemical your body releases in response to pollen, dust, and other allergens—and keeps allergy symptoms like sneezing and congestion under control. "Skip the over-the-counter decongestant sprays," says Corn. "They provide instant relief, but if used for more than a few days in a row, they can irritate your nasal tissue and make congestion worse." If symptoms of allergies persist beyond two weeks, schedule an appointment with your physician, who may prescribe a stronger once-a-day antihistamine, such as fexofenadine (Allegra), or a nasal steroid spray to lessen inflammation and mucus production. "Also pay attention to any recent changes you've made to your routine," says Corn, "such as that new perfume you spritzed on this morning or the different cleaning spray you just used." To breathe easier, flush excess mucus using a neti pot or nasal saline spray (during flare-ups or daily for up to three weeks), and consider investing in a HEPA air filter to remove those indoor pollutants.

HOME REMEDIES: 5 Easy Ways to Nix Symptoms of Allergies

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