Allergies Or Cold? How To Tell The Difference

For people who have outdoor seasonal allergies, the first warm days after a cold winter are bittersweet. It’s lovely outside, but somehow you feel lousy. With winter still present many days, it’s difficult to know the difference between allergies and a cold. It’s important to know the difference between the two. A cold is caused by a virus, which only time will cure. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics, and taking antibiotics needlessly may harm you. Allergies, on the other hand, are an immune response summoned by the presence of an allergen — that ragweed, grass, or pollen — that causes sneezing, watery eyes, a stuffy nose, and sometimes malaise. Allergies don’t go away until the allergen does.

Influenza can give you a variety of symptoms, but usually for adults, it feels like a bad cold with body aches and possibly a fever with chills. Photo by Shutterstock

According to First Coast News, Dr. Ami Delgada says that they are easy to differentiate between if you know what you are looking for.

“With allergies, there’s no body aches. There’s no other symptoms other than your eyes and your nose won’t stop running and your eyes look real big puffy red. Usually allergies present with sneezing, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes… where a cold is more of a cough and usually associated with a fever.”

The deciding factor seems to be a cough and fever. If they are present, it is usually a cold. If they are not present, it is usually allergies. Of course, allergen testing is the one way to be sure if you have an allergy, but most people don’t want the expense of visiting an allergist. If allergies are mild to moderate and don’t trigger breathing problems, it’s usually safe to treat at home.

How does one treat a cold? Rest, lots of fluids taken orally, ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help with body aches and fever, and a cough suppressant to quell the cough. Many people are surprised how long a cold can last — up to fourteen days or so. A sore throat is usually the first symptom, followed by general lethargy and the start of a cough. The cough and production of phlegm may last weeks, but the fever usually goes away after a few days.

Colds are communicable — that is, able to be gotten from other people and given to other people. The elderly and children are most at risk, but anyone can get a cold. The best prevention is frequent handwashing. Those who have a cold should stay home from work or school while fever is present — that’s when they can give it to others. It’s also important to sneeze or cough into the crook of your arm to help stop the dissemination of cold particles to others. Chicken soup has actually been associated with lessening the length of a cold, and stopping activities to allow your body to fight the infection are extremely helpful.

Allergies are a different story — they may be present for months. Some people may have a minor cough, but no fever. The predominant symptoms are itchy throats and eyes, watery eyes, and running noses. Antibiotics do not cure allergies, either, but over the counter allergy meds may quiet different immune-antigen reactions that are associated with allergies, making symptoms less severe. Pseudoephedrine may be helpful in drying up secretions, but it can also raise blood pressure, so those with hypertension should be careful using it. There’s not one allergy medication that will work well for everyone – often people need to experiment with what works the best. Staying away from allergens can be a challenge, but it’s best to not open windows. An air conditioner is the preferable way of cooling the house if someone has allergies. They should also bathe and shampoo their hair to avoid inhaling allergens that stuck around from the day.

[Photo by UNICEF via Getty Images]