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Is it Allergies or Cold Symptoms?

January 11, 2018

You know the symptoms all too well: coughing, nasal congestion, headache, sore throat, and fatigue. But you don't always know whether it's a cold or another bout with allergies.

Why does it matter? Because how you treat them (and how they affect those around you) can be very different. Here's a closer look at the differences between cold symptoms and allergy symptoms, and what you can do for each of them.

Identifying Common Cold Symptoms

Figuring out where you caught a cold is difficult because there are hundreds of types of viruses that cause them. You can come into contact with those viruses many different ways, from shaking hands with someone who is infected to being near an infected person who coughs or sneezes. Viruses even live on surfaces touched by another person.

Colds appear with symptoms like coughing and/or nasal congestion as your body tries fighting off the virus. A sore throat, sneezing, itchy eyes, fever, and body aches all are symptoms of a cold.

The good news is that colds usually last 10 days or less, so you'll soon be back on top of your game. But keep in mind that it's contagious, so avoid infecting those around you.

If you're sick for more than two weeks, the cold may have turned into an infection, so schedule an appointment with your primary care physician for treatment.

Recognizing Allergy Symptoms

Unlike colds, allergies aren't caused by viruses; they're the result of your immune system overreacting to something in the air. They can include seasonal allergies, which occur when pollen production changes, but they also can be a reaction to other things, like dust mites, mold, animal hair and dander, or certain foods.

While seasonal allergies are the most common form of allergies, people with sensitivities can be affected any time they are exposed to triggers. They share many symptoms with colds, such as coughing, sneezing, congestion, sore throat, and a runny nose. Some of the biggest differences are that a rash can also accompany allergies, but they will not include fevers or body aches. And, while colds will run their course, allergies won't go away without treatment or removing oneself from the source of the allergens.

Easing the Symptoms

Understanding whether it's a cold or allergy is the best weapon for fighting it. If you have ongoing problems with allergies, your doctor can help you find a treatment plan that works for you.

While there aren't any true "cures" for colds, over-the-counter medications including cough syrups, pain relievers, and decongestant sprays can help ease your symptoms. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medications, particularly if you have an underlying health condition or are taking prescription medication.