allergies or a cold

Is it Allergies or a Cold?

Understanding the Difference in Symptoms Can Help you Determine Your Sickness

The symptoms of allergies or a cold can be similar. For example, the common cold and allergies can lead to a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, and coughing. But although symptoms are often identical, allergies and a cold have different causes and sometimes different treatments.

Determining whether you are dealing with a cold or allergy symptoms helps get you the right treatment. Below is more information on allergies and colds, including similarities and differences.

What are allergies?

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, more than 50 million people in the United States have allergies.

An allergy involves an abnormal reaction by your immune system to a typically harmless substance. In people that have allergies, their body reacts to an allergen as if it is dangerous. The immune system kicks in and releases antibodies known as immunoglobulin E.

Immunoglobulin attaches to certain cells in the immune system, causing a release of histamine. When the cells release histamine, it leads to an allergic reaction and typical allergy symptoms, such as:

  • Sneezing.
  • Coughing.
  • Runny nose.
  • Stuffy nose.
  • Watery eyes.

What is the common cold?

Most people have had a common cold more than once; a cold causes an upper respiratory tract infection. Hundreds of viruses can lead to a cold. According to the American Lung Association, rhinovirus is the most frequent cause of a cold in up to 40 percent of cases.

Cold symptoms can vary in severity but typically include:

  • Sneezing.
  • Stuffy or runny nose.
  • Coughing.
  • Sore throat.
  • Fatigue.

Similarities between allergies and a cold

In many cases, colds and allergies have some of the same symptoms. They can both leave you feeling miserable with congestion and sneezing.

A cold can also zap your energy leaving you feeling fatigued and worn out. It might be surprising, but allergies can even sometimes cause fatigue.

Some of the treatment for allergies and colds is also similar. For example, medication to ease nasal congestion can help whether the cause is a cold or allergies.

Nasal Congestion

With allergies and colds, nasal congestion is something that can occur in both. While your nose is congested, you may have discharge, which is referred to as a "runny nose." It's an annoyance for most people but can become serious for younger children and infants when it becomes a problem with breathing.

Differences and how to tell allergies from a cold

Although there are some similarities between a cold and allergies, there are also a few differences, such as:

Cause: Allergies occur after exposure to an allergen. A cold occurs due to an infection with a virus.

Symptoms: Some of the symptoms are similar between a cold and allergies. But certain symptoms only occur with a cold. For instance, a cold can cause a fever, while allergies do not. A cold can also lead to muscle aches and pains, but allergies do not.

Duration: Another way to tell the difference between a cold and allergies is how long symptoms last. Usually, cold symptoms last about a week or two. But depending on what you are allergic to, allergy symptoms can last several weeks.

Allergy treatment

Allergy treatment often includes reducing exposure to allergens. For some people, this may mean less time spent outside when pollen levels are high or decreasing dust or pet danger inside.

Another treatment option includes medication. Different medication classifications are available to prevent the release of histamine and stop allergy symptoms from developing. Decongestants to reduce a stuffy nose may also help.

Allergy shots are also helpful for some people. Allergy shots work by gradually delivering a series of shots with a small amount of the allergen, allowing your body to build up a tolerance to the allergen, which may stop an allergic reaction over time.

Cold treatment

Treatment for a cold is aimed at reducing discomfort. The main treatment is over-the-counter medications to reduce fever, aches, and pains. Staying well-hydrated and getting enough rest also helps your body recover. Decongestants can also help treat a stuffy nose from a cold.

Prevention of allergies and a cold

Although it is not possible to prevent the development of allergies, there are steps to reduce flare-ups. You can also decrease your risk of getting a cold. Consider the following suggestions:

Reduce your risk of a cold with the following tips:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid contact with people that have cold or flu symptoms.
  • Limit touching your nose, mouth, and eyes.
  • Get plenty of rest to keep your immune system strong.

Allergies can be a bit tricky to prevent. But there are several things you can do to reduce a flare-up of symptoms, including:

  • Know your triggers. Keep a log of when symptoms occur, what you were doing, and how long they last; this may help you identify the cause and reduce exposure.
  • Wash your face after coming in from outside if you are allergic to pollen.
  • Vacuum dust and pet danger often.
  • Keep windows closed when the pollen count is high.

Consider talking with your doctor if you get frequent colds or a flare-up of allergy symptoms. Additional prevention strategies and treatment might be an option.

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