Although the symptoms of a cold and allergies are similar, the two conditions have different causes, and the symptoms of the conditions vary in type and duration. Both conditions usually involve a runny nose, sneezing and congestion, but a cold also includes a sore throat and coughing. Unfortunately, these symptoms can also appear in people who have hay fever. So, how do you tell the difference between the two and when do you know when to seek medical attention for your symptoms? Here are a few signs to look for that will help determine whether the symptoms are due to a cold or allergies.
What is a Cold and What are Allergies?
First, it is important to know what the difference is between the two conditions:
- A cold is a virus, so your body’s immune system automatically defends itself against the virus; this is what encourages the coughing and/or stuffy nose. A cold is contagious and can be transferred to others through sneezing, coughing and touching germ infected surfaces, including hands. A cold typically last a couple of weeks and then the symptoms go away.
- An allergy occurs when you have an allergic reaction to a substance (allergens). Allergens can be found outdoors, indoors and in things you eat or drink. If you have allergies, your body’s immune system mistakes harmless things for germs or foreign invaders and attacks them. When the attack happens, your body releases histamine, which encourages symptoms, such as sneezing, coughing and swelling in the nose.
Time of the Year
One of the easiest ways to determine if your symptoms are from a cold or allergies is when your symptoms tend to occur. Colds typically occur in the winter, and it usually takes several days after exposure to the virus for the symptoms to appear. The onset of allergies can occur any time of the year, and symptoms generally occur immediately after your immune system is exposed to the allergen. If you tend to experience symptoms at the same time every year, it is most likely the result of seasonal allergies.
Duration of Symptoms
The duration of your symptoms also helps to distinguish between the two conditions. If you have a cold, the symptoms usually last 3-14 days and if you have allergies, the symptoms typically last for several days and even months. If it is an allergic reaction, your symptoms will last as long as you are in contact with the allergen.
Color of Discharge
Both a cold and allergies will often result in the discharge of nasal mucus, but the color of the discharge can help to know what the cause is. For example, if the color of the mucus is green or yellow, it is typically due to a cold or an infection, whereas those with allergies typically produce clear nasal secretions.
One of the best ways to determine if your symptoms are related to a cold or allergies is whether or not you have a fever. A fever is never a sign of allergies. Aches and pains are also symptoms of a cold or the flu, but never a sign of allergies. However, if you have itchy eyes, a scratchy throat and/or scratchy nose, the itchiness is typically a sign of allergies. If you still aren't sure if your symptoms are related to a cold or allergies, it may be beneficial to make an appointment with your medical provider. Keep in mind that the usual treatment for a cold is drinking plenty of fluids and getting rest. However, if you are experiencing allergies, your medical provider may recommend testing to determine the specific allergens causing your symptoms, and they may prescribe medications to help relieve your symptoms.
If you’re suffering from cold or allergy symptoms, we can help! Come see us at PrimeCare Urgent Care for testing and treatment options.