With Spring just around the corner, you may be experiencing a few sniffling and sneezing fits, or find yourself coughing more than normal. But, are your symptoms a cold or are they seasonal allergies?
Colds are caused by many different types of viruses. The type of virus determines the severity of the cold. Colds are transmitted through virus droplets that a sick person sheds when they cough or sneeze. Despite their name, colds can be caught year round. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that the average healthy adult catches two or three colds per year.
Protect yourself by washing your hands regularly, staying away from those who are sick and avoid touching your eyes and mouth with unwashed hands.
Allergies are caused by an immune system response to certain substances. When the body is exposed to an allergy trigger, also known as an allergen, the immune system releases chemicals called histamines. These histamines cause the symptoms of allergies.
Each year, an estimated 50 million Americans experience allergy symptoms. The most common allergies are to seasonal pollen produced by trees, weeds and grass. Other common allergens are mold, dust, animal dander and foods, especially peanuts, tree nuts, milk, and eggs.
Telling the difference between a cold and allergies can be tricky, as they have many of the same symptoms. Both can cause:
- Runny noses
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
- Post-nasal drip
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
The following symptoms can help you to determine the cause of discomfort:
- Itchy eyes- Itchy and watery eyes are telltale signs of allergies, as the eyes react to the allergen in your environment.
- Fever- Fevers can be present in severe colds, especially in children, but allergies do not cause fevers.
- Wheezing- Allergies are more likely to cause wheezing, due to inflammation in the airways.
- Body aches- Aches can be present with a cold, but will not occur with allergies.
- Sore throat- While sore throats occur with both conditions, it is a more common symptom of colds.
- Skin conditions- Allergies may cause eczema or hives, but colds will not.
- Duration- According to the CDC, cold symptoms typically last 7 to 10 days, but allergy symptoms can last for several weeks, especially during pollen season when the allergen remains in the air.
- Onset- With allergies, symptoms can come and go as the body is exposed to the allergen. For example, if the symptoms suddenly appear when exposed to pets or grass, it is allergy related. Colds are persistent for their duration.
There are many over-the-counter medications available to treat both colds and allergies. While there is no cure for a cold, these medications can help alleviate some of the symptoms, such as coughing and nasal congestion.
Allergies can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants. Antihistamines, which usually come in a pill or nasal spray, can help to reduce common allergy symptoms, such as itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, and runny nose. Nasal steroid sprays can also be used to decrease inflammation in the nose, which can alleviate congestion.
If symptoms last more than two weeks, consult a doctor. Our office is open for walk-in appointments during all of our business hours.