The spring is just around the corner, and with the flowers and trees in bloom, it is prime allergy season. Unfortunately, people often catch colds this time of year too. With both problems resulting in similar side effects, it is challenging to determine whether you have an allergic reaction to your environment or caught a virus. Thankfully, allergists and physicians make things a little easier for people by providing symptom comparison lists and explain the difference between allergies and colds.
Defining Each Issue
The definition of an allergy is a chronic condition resulting in an abnormal response to ordinary and typically harmless stimuli. Common allergens include pollen, pet dander, bee venom, etc. While some allergic reactions are minimal, others require immediate medical intervention, needing an injection of epinephrine, stimulating the heart and lungs, and simultaneously improving blood pressure and swelling.
A cold is a viral infection. Often affecting your upper respiratory tract, the illness is typically harmless, resolving itself in seven to 10 days. However, while the virus is potentially harmless, patients must stay hydrated, sticking primarily with water. Dehydration can lead to more problems.
While allergies and colds do share some symptoms, there are several differences. One definitive way to determine allergies over a cold or something else is that symptoms only appear at specific times or during particular situations. For example, if you are sneezing every year in early fall or late spring, you are most likely dealing with allergies.
Additionally, if you are sniffing or sneezing for over a week, you are most likely dealing with allergies. Another telltale sign you are coping with allergies and not a cold is the color of your mucus; clear and watery mucus indicates allergies and not an infection.
Finally, itchy and watery eyes are a sign of allergies. When staving off a viral infection, your body will not produce itchy or watery eyes.
There is a common misperception that colds only occur when it is coldest. While it is true that colds are most prominent in late fall and through winter, adults and children can get them throughout the year, with most people experiencing multiple colds per year.
When you have a cold, your mucus tends to change color from clear to yellow or green. The texture will also change, becoming thicker. The color change is a reaction to your immune cells fighting back against the virus.
If you notice that your symptoms change throughout the week — every few days or so — you likely have a cold. Like any virus, a cold has a progression of symptoms, starting with a low-grade fever.
Finally, if you are experiencing a cough, body aches, headaches, or a fever, you most likely have a cold. Allergies do not typically cause any of these symptoms, so diagnosis is unlikely.
Seeing a Doctor
For allergies and colds, treatment options vary. In most cases, the symptoms eventually go away on their own. However, if you experience trouble breathing, skin rashes, swelling, or symptoms that go beyond 10 days, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine the best treatment plan.
Have you ever confused allergies for a cold or vice versa? Leave a comment below to start a conversation and participate in the Smarter Science of Slim community.