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How to Determine the Difference Between a Cold and an Allergy

Coughing, sneezing and a runny nose are common symptoms of a cold. However, they are also signs that you may be suffering from allergies. Telling the difference between the two can be tricky.... Read More

How to Determine the Difference Between a Cold and an Allergy

Coughing, sneezing and a runny nose are common symptoms of a cold. However, they are also signs that you may be suffering from allergies. Telling the difference between the two can be tricky.

Though the symptoms may be the same, the actual causes of colds and allergies are quite different. Colds can come from any one of roughly 100 different types of viruses. When you’re exposed to the virus, your body reacts and a cough or stuffy nose results. Contagiousness is another major distinction; when a cold virus gets in the air or on a surface, other people within your area may soon pick it up.

Allergies, on the other hand, result from an overactive immune system. In this scenario, the body reacts to dust, pollen and other seemingly innocuous particles in the same way that it reacts to germs. The subsequent attack releases natural chemicals in your body like histamines, which cause the nasal passages to swell. You’ll start to sneeze, experience a runny nose or cough in response.

When your symptoms could indicate a cold or allergies, you can still figure out what’s causing them. Depending on when you started feeling sick, if you’re feeling stiff and sore, or even what you find in your tissues, you could be able to identify the problem and treat it effectively. Here are several distinctions that will help you determine whether you’re suffering from allergies or a cold:

1. When Symptoms Emerge

After a cold virus enters your system, symptoms emerge within a few days. In the case of allergies, common signs like sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes can occur as soon as you’re exposed to allergen. Along these lines, if you have a seasonal allergy, you’ll notice that it returns roughly at the same point every year and lasts for the same period. Colds, however, may occur at any time, although you have a greater likelihood of catching one in the fall and winter.

2. Duration

How long symptoms stick around can be a clue to whether you’ve picked up a cold or are having an allergic reaction. Colds typically stay in your system anywhere from three days to two weeks. From there, the condition usually lessens. The duration of allergy symptoms often depends on the allergy. Your symptoms could go away as soon as the allergen is removed, such as with a pet allergy. In other cases, such as seasonal allergies, your symptoms could linger for much longer.

3. Auxiliary Symptoms

You’ll sneeze and cough, but what about the rest of your symptoms?
Colds tend to be felt across the whole body, particularly as aching muscles or a fever. For seasonal allergies, symptoms concentrate toward the sinuses and nasal passages. Along with those listed above, you may have itchy, watery eyes, or a sore throat due to drainage.

4. Nasal Discharge

What does your mucous look like? Color indicates your body’s reaction. A yellow or green shade shows your system may be fighting off a virus. Running clear signifies an infection isn’t present and, instead, that your body may be handling allergens.
This measure, however, isn’t 100-percent accurate. Long-term allergies keep the sufferer vulnerable to respiratory and fungal infections. In response, a sinus infection may simultaneously develop, resulting in yellow-colored nasal discharge.

Thankfully, over-the-counter treatments are available for both colds and allergies. Cough syrups, multi-symptom pain medications and standard pain relievers can help those suffering from a cold, while allergy sufferers may find relief from antihistamines or decongestants. It’s important to take any over-the-counter medication according to the package directions, and consult your doctor if your symptoms persist.