Differences between Allergies and Colds

by Trudy Despain
(last updated August 23, 2013)

All of us, even the healthiest among us, all suffer from the common cold at one time or another. But sometimes those sniffles and sneezes are not caused by a virus but by some other allergen floating in the air around you. The symptoms of the common cold and allergies are similar but there are some key things to look for when deciding if you have a cold or allergies.

  • The duration of the common cold tends to be three to fourteen days while allergies will last as long as you are being exposed to the allergen.
  • Colds most likely occur during the winter but it is possible to get a cold at any time of the year. Allergies are usually seasonal or only occur in certain environments when the allergen is present.
  • The onset of a cold is usually slower than allergies. A cold usually begins with minor symptoms like a sore throat or general fatigue and then get worse over a few days time. Allergy symptoms are usually more immediate than a cold and subside as soon as the allergen is removed.
  • Usually a cough accompanies a cold while a cough is rare with allergies.
  • All-over achiness and fever are trademarks of a cold. Allergies never cause achiness or fever.
  • Red, irritated eyes are seldom a symptom of a cold unless a virus has affected your eyes. Itchy watery eyes are very common with allergies.
  • A runny nose is common for both a cold and allergies but watch for what is coming out of the nose. Thick and yellow mucus usually points to a cold while thin, clear mucus is more common with allergies.

Knowing the difference between the symptoms of the cold and allergies is one step in effectively managing your health. Knowing how to prevent the symptoms from occurring is the next important step.

  • Obviously, if your symptoms are caused by allergies, stay away from things that trigger your allergies to flare up. Some common causes of allergies are dust mites, pollen, cockroaches and animal dander.
  • If it is impossible for you to avoid allergens, ask your doctor for help. Medications can block the histamines that trigger the allergy symptoms.
  • If you suspect that your symptoms are allergies but you are unable to determine a cause, ask your doctor to perform an allergy blood panel to determine what is causing your symptoms.
  • To prevent the common cold follow the age-old advice of washing your hands often and avoiding people who have a cold.

If you thing you are suffering from a cold, managing your symptoms and preventing them in the future is the best you can do until modern medicine finally finds the cure for the common cold. Knowing the difference between the cold and allergies will help you manage your health and avoid sick days in the future.

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