Cold or Allergies

How to tell if you have a cold or allergies?

Allergies and colds affect adults and children around the world every year. It is projected by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) that adults will normally have 2 - 3 colds a year, while children often have even more than that each year. Allergies are also very prevalent among both adults and children.

Though symptoms of colds and allergies can be similar, they are actually quite different conditions. The underlying causes for colds and allergies are different, and in fact the symptoms do vary in both duration and type. Once identified correctly, proper treatment can happen.

In order to differentiate between an allergy and a cold it is important to know what is the root cause of each condition. Colds are caused by viruses (there are estimated to be at least 200 subtypes of viruses) and are transmittable in the air through droplets from sneezing and coughing. Meanwhile allergies are NOT caused by viruses allergies are not contagious. An allergy actually develops when a person’s immune system reacts against what is normally a harmless substance as if the substance was dangerous. In the reaction a person’s body will release compounds in order to combat what it is perceiving as a harmful and/or invasive substance. One compound that gets released in this kind of reaction is histamine, which is intended to be protective to the body and fight against the invader. But it is actually the histamine that will cause a lot of typical allergy symptoms.

Similarities and Differences in Colds and Allergies

Variations in the duration and history of symptoms can offer insight as to whether a cold or allergy is presenting.

Colds and allergies share some similar symptoms, such as runny nose, coughing, sneezing, conjunctivitis, post-nasal drip, sore throat, and nasal congestion

To distinguish between a cold or an allergy the following guidelines can help:


* Watery and itchy eyes are often giveaway signs that an allergy is present.

* Some people who have allergies will develop eczema, so this is also an indicator of the presence of allergies.

* Sore throat will present with allergies, occasionally.
* Symptoms usually present during certain seasons or will fluctuate according to a person’s environment. For example, if symptoms occur suddenly near a certain grass, tree or animal then allergies are likely to be the cause.

* Symptoms often last up to several weeks, especially if the allergen continues to be present in the air.


* Fevers can occur when a person has a severe cold, especially for kids. (Fevers are not a symptom of allergies.)

* Body aches and sore throat are common with a cold. (Body aches do not occur with allergies.)

* Symptoms generally last 7-10 days

When to Visit the Doctor

Because it can be challenging to distinguish the difference between colds and allergies, it’s good to remember there are times when advice from a healthcare provider should is necessary. If any of your symptoms last for longer than two weeks, or if the symptoms are particularly severe, it is important to see the doctor. A doctor can identify an allergy trigger with the use of serum and skin testing. If a specific allergen can be identified, a relevant and effective treatment plan can be developed.

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