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Cold vs Allergies: What You Need to Know

Dec 12, 2023

Urgent Care

Cold vs Allergies: What You Need to Know

Do you often find yourself reaching for tissues and sneezing uncontrollably, wondering whether it's a regular cold or something caused by allergies? The similarity in symptoms usually leaves us confused, trying to decipher between the two. When seasons shift or the weather changes, it's important to figure out the difference between a cold and allergies. Knowing this helps us find the right way to manage and get relief that works.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), allergies affect more than 60 million people in the United States alone. Additionally, it highlights that adults usually suffer from about 2-3 colds per year, with children often experiencing even more.

If you're wondering how to tell if it's allergies or a cold, this article is for you. Read on to find out more about allergies vs cold symptoms.

What Are Colds and Allergies?

Colds are caused by viruses. Once infected with a cold virus, your body tries to fight it off, bringing on classic cold symptoms like coughing or a blocked nose. Cold viruses are infectious, which means a person with a cold can spread the infection if they cough or sneeze in public or even shake hands. Once infected, at most, a person takes one or two weeks to recover and stops exhibiting symptoms afterward.

Allergies present a unique challenge on their own. They're caused if a person has an overactive immune system. This means that the person's immune system misidentifies harmless substances such as pollen and dust as germs and attacks them. When this happens, the body releases chemicals similar to histamine when it battles colds, leading to symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, and swollen nasal passageways. One major difference between allergies and a cold is that allergies are not infectious but, in some cases, may be genetically inherited.

How to Differentiate: Is It a Cold or Allergies?

Learn what's the difference between a cold and allergies with the help of the chart below:

 

Category of Difference

Allergy

Cold

Cause

Hyper-active immune system

Virus

Duration

Days to months

3-14 days

Time of prevalence

Any time of the year unless it is a seasonal allergy

Any time, but most often in winter

Incubation period

No incubation; symptoms manifest immediately on contact with allergens

A few days after the virus enters the body

Prevention

Identification of allergens and avoidance as far as possible

Maintenance of hygiene, washing hands often, and avoidance of contact with cold-infected persons

Treatment

Avoidance of allergens; face masks; decongestants; nasal steroids; anti-histamines

Plenty of hydration; rest; aspirin (for adults); decongestants; ibuprofen for body aches

Possible severities

Asthma; ear and sinus infections

Asthma; sinus and ear infections

Are Your Symptoms a Cold or Allergies?

The symptoms of cold vs allergies are quite close. So, how do you know the difference between a cold and allergies?

Here is a list of symptoms to help you understand the different signs of allergy and cold:

Symptoms

Allergy

Cold

Blocked or runny nose

Yes

Yes

Headache

Not common

Not common

Fatigue

Occasionally

Occasionally

Body aches

Never

Occasionally

Fever

Never

Uncommon

Sore throat

Occasionally

Yes

Cough

Occasionally

Yes

Sneezing

Yes

Yes

Chest discomfort

Not common

Mild to moderate

Duration

Usually lasts 7-10 days

Varies; symptoms can persist for weeks

Triggers

No specific triggers

Seasonal changes, specific allergens

Diagnosing Between Colds and Allergies

In cold vs allergy quandaries, expert medical help isn’t often required to diagnose colds. If you consult a doctor, a study of preliminary symptoms should be enough to confirm a diagnosis.

In the case of allergies, however, your primary physician may want you to run some tests to confirm their nature and extent. They may even refer you to an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist or an allergist to confirm diagnosis.

Treatments for Colds and Allergies

Unless they become aggressive, cold and allergy treatment is simple and can easily be achieved at home.

  1. Cold: The body self-heals in cold cases, provided you drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest. Taking antibiotics is a common mistake people make when they contract a cold. Antibiotics fight bacteria and are, therefore, ineffective in treating virus-driven colds. Saline nasal sprays, cough syrups, and pain-relieving medicines like ibuprofen are enough to recover from colds. Home remedies such as gargling with salt water and using cool-mist humidifiers are also recommended.
  2. Allergies: The best way to treat allergies is to avoid environments where allergens abound. If that isn’t possible, symptoms have to be addressed. You can avail of anti-histamines, decongestants, nasal sprays, and eye drops, and opt for allergy shots under the guidance of a medical practitioner.

When Should You Seek Help?

For cold and allergy symptoms, seeking help might be necessary when:

  • If symptoms last more than two weeks
  • If you have pre-diagnosed conditions, including asthma, sinusitis, and nasal polyps
  • If you’re considering allergy shots
  • If you experience severities like fever, inability to breathe, or function properly

Still Confused About Colds vs Allergies? Walk into MI Express Urgent Care!

At MI Express Urgent Care, we understand the confusion you may face in diagnosing cold vs allergies. That is why we offer dedicated care and custom-made treatment plans to assist you in diagnosing and managing your symptoms and improving your quality of life. Contact us today to relieve your worries.

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