Sneezing, sniffling, congestion, and itchy eyes often spark the cold vs. allergies debate. However, it’s important to do some detective work before deciding whether its seasonal allergies or a nasty cold.
While nearly 50 million Americans suffer from real seasonal allergies, it’s notoriously tricky to figure out the trigger behind certain symptoms. Seasonal allergies and cold viruses share many characteristics (starting with the fact that they’re both a total bummer), so oftentimes one is misdiagnosed as the other.
Colds and allergies have totally different causes and therefore require totally different treatments. Colds occur when a virus enters the body and the immune system goes on attack, bringing on those classic cold symptoms like runny noses, coughs, and sore throats. Allergies, on the other hand, are the product of an overactive immune system. They happen when the body mistakes something innocuous (like dust or pollen) for something nefarious (like virus or a germ) and then launches an attack. The result is a release of chemicals (histamines), just as if it were fighting a cold. These histamines can swell the nasal passageways, leading to all that unpleasant coughing and sneezing.
The faster the source is determined, the faster relief and a plan of action can be devised.
Here are five questions to ask to help get to the bottom of things.
1. How long have symptoms persisted?
People typically get over colds quickly—on average between 7 to 10 days, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Allergies last longer. They can go on for weeks, or for the entire time someone is exposed to whatever’s triggering the reaction (usually pollen).
2. What color is the nasal discharge?< Patients with colds or infections tend to have an colored nasal discharge (green or yellow). Seasonal allergies usually produce more clear nasal secretions. One complication to this is sinus infections, however. Sometimes, people who suffer from allergies develop infections, which can also result in a yellow-colored nasal discharge. 3. What time of year is it? Colds are common in the winter—and symptoms tend to start several days after exposure to a virus. Seasonal allergy symptoms (sneezing, stuffy nose, itchy eyes) occur immediately after exposure to pollens in the spring, summer or fall. 4. Body aches or a temperature? If experience a fever or achiness, it’s more likely that a cold or virus is the culprit than allergies. 5. Itchy and watery eyes? While feeling the need to constantly itch the eyes could be associated with a cold, it’s far more likely to be a symptom of seasonal allergies Even if“it’s just allergies,” it’s still a good idea to see a doctor. Allergies run rampant and can trigger chronic sinus infections, ear infections, sleep issues, and even asthma.