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Know the Difference Between Seasonal Allergies and a Cold

You know the symptoms all too well, but do you know whether your itchy, watery eyes, stuffy nose and sneezing are the result of a cold or seasonal allergies? Unless you’ve been tracking your symptoms and when you get sick for the last year or two, it can be difficult to tell them apart at first glance.

While they share many of the same symptoms, they are very different diseases.

What are allergies?

Allergies occur when your body is exposed to certain allergens, or triggers. When this happens, your body releases chemicals called histamines. These histamines help remove allergens from your body or skin but lead to a host of uncomfortable symptoms. Most allergies occur around the same time every year and last as long as the allergen is in the air (typically 2-3 weeks).

Common allergens include pollen, insect stings and bites, mold, dust mites, pet dander, certain plants, and a number of foods (e.g., peanuts, milk, eggs, wheat, fish, shellfish or soy). Common symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Itchy, runny or blocked nose
  • Shortness of breath

What is a cold?

Unlike allergies, colds are caused by a virus. They are very contagious and easily transmitted from person to person. If you’ve been in close contact with someone who is coughing or sneezing, you may have caught a cold. While symptoms and severity vary, colds and allergies share many symptoms. The biggest difference is that colds last about one week (instead of 2-3 weeks) and have less itching of the nose and eyes.

If you so suffer from seasonal or ongoing allergies and they aren’t treated effectively, it could weaken your immune system. This can make you more susceptible to viruses like the common cold and other germs. It can also evolve into a sinus, ear, or upper respiratory infection.

Do I have allergies or a cold?

If you’re feeling under the weather and are wondering if you have allergies or a cold, take a close look at symptoms they don’t share. Here are four symptoms that set colds apart from allergies:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Sore throat
  • Fever

Treatment options for seasonal allergies and colds

It’s important to ask the question, “Do I have allergies or a cold?” so you can choose the best, most effective treatment. Many seasonal allergies can be treated with over-the-counter histamine blockers like Allegra or Benadryl. It’s important to note, however, that these may cause drowsiness. Cold remedies include cough syrups and over-the-counter cold medications, decongestant nasal sprays and pain relievers (e.g., Tylenol or Advil). If you have a persistent cough that lasts for more than eight weeks, it’s time to seek medical attention.

If you’d like to learn more about cold versus allergies, your symptoms do not improve or you notice symptoms getting worse, please call Coastal Urgent Care of Ruston at 318-249-8410 or visit your Coastal Urgent Care provider. We’re open for walk-in appointments Mon – Fri, from 8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m., and Sat – Sun, from 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.