TUESDAY, May 9, 2023 (HealthDay News) — As the seasons change and the weather changes, it’s not uncommon to experience symptoms like sneezing, coughing and congestion.
But how do you know if you’re dealing with a cold or allergies? The two can have similar symptoms, making it difficult to distinguish an allergy from a cold. Here, experts give tips on how to tell the difference.
Cold vs. Allergy Symptoms: What Are the Differences?
Understanding allergy vs. cold symptoms is vital to determining which one you’re dealing with. While the two may share some similarities, there are also some differences to be aware of.
Based on information from the Mayo Clinic and Atlantic Health System, here’s a list of common cold and allergy symptoms to help you differentiate between the two:
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Cold symptoms include:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- A sore throat
- to sneeze
- Pain in the body
Symptoms of allergies include:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- to sneeze
- Itchy or watery eyes
- Postnasal drip
“Both allergies and the common cold can cause inflammatory reactions in the nasal passages and upper respiratory tract,” said Dr. Gabrielle Samuels, a physician of osteopathic medicine at Atlantic Health System, in a recent article. “Inflammation in these areas can lead to similar symptoms, even though the causes can be very different.”
However, there are some symptoms that are unique to each condition. With allergies, you may see watery, itchy eyes and an itchy throat. In general, itching can be a sign of allergies, Samuels said.
Colds vs. Allergies: How Do I Know What I Have?
You know the feeling, you start sneezing and sniffling, and before you know it, you’re cracking open a box of tissues. As the hours pass and symptoms worsen, it’s not uncommon to turn to the medicine cabinet in search of cold medicines for relief. But in the back of your mind you may be wondering, especially when spring or summer has arrived, is what I’m feeling a cold? Or is it an allergy?
“Finding that out is challenging,” says Dr. Louis Papa, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of Rochester, in New York. It’s especially troublesome at this time of year, when colds are common and long-awaited blooms can be a nuisance. In a recent paper from the University of Rochester Medical Center, Papa notes that COVID-19 has made distinguishing between allergies and the common cold even more complicated.
You’re probably dealing with a cold if you suddenly have a runny nose, cough, and sore throat followed by a general malaise. These symptoms are caused by a viral infection that others can catch and usually go away within seven to 10 days. However, if your symptoms persist or worsen after this time, it may be worth seeing a doctor to rule out other underlying conditions.
On the other hand, if you’re experiencing symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes, and a runny or itchy nose that comes and goes, you’re probably dealing with allergies. The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology notes that environmental allergies can be caused by pollen, mold, dust mites, pet dander, and even certain foods.
Unlike the common cold, other people cannot contract allergies and symptoms can last for weeks or even months, depending on the severity of the allergy triggers. If you suspect you are allergic, it is best to consult an allergist for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Management and treatment of colds and allergies
Whether you have a cold or allergies, finding relief from your symptoms is essential to feeling better. While the causes and symptoms of these two conditions may overlap, the treatments may differ.
Treatment for the common cold generally involves managing the symptoms while the body fights the virus. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), and aspirin can help relieve pain and reduce fever. Nasal sprays and decongestants can help relieve nasal congestion and sinus pressure, while cough syrups can help with coughing. Staying hydrated and resting while recovering from a cold is essential. Antibiotics are not effective in treating the common cold because they only work against bacterial infections, not viruses.
For allergies, on the other hand, the Cleveland Clinic states that the first step in treatment is to identify and avoid the allergen triggers as much as possible. Over-the-counter antihistamines can help block the histamines released by the body during an allergic reaction. Nasal sprays and eye drops can also help relieve symptoms. More severe allergies may require prescription medications such as corticosteroids. Allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy, can desensitize the body to specific allergens over time.