With the weather changing, stuffy heads and sore throats are common—but are they caused by a cold virus or seasonal allergies? Because the symptoms are often similar, it can sometimes be hard to tell. In this post, we’ll explore what sets allergies and colds apart and suggest helpful ways to tell the difference. Plus, we’ll share recommendations on how to get relief from both ailments.
Symptoms of a Cold
If your runny nose is accompanied by a sore throat, a fever or body aches, it’s likely that you’ve caught a cold virus. Itchy eyes aren’t necessarily a symptom but can be a consequence of the stuffiness caused by a cold. To prevent colds, wash your hands often and keep them from touching areas on your face that are the most susceptible to receiving germs (such as your eyes and mouth).
Symptoms of Allergies
Unlike colds, allergies almost always include itchy eyes, wheezing and a runny nose, but lack some of the more severe symptoms like body aches and fevers. Sore throats are also not an indicator of allergies. If you’re able to identify the allergen that is causing distress, avoid it when possible; if you’re not sure of the specific allergen, see a specialist to be tested.
How to Tell the Difference
Aside from making a checklist of symptoms and playing the process-of-elimination game, there are a few more indicators that may shed some light on your symptoms.
Short-term symptoms. If your symptoms appear all-of-a-sudden and disappear just as rapidly, you’re probably suffering from an allergy. If that’s the case, a lack of exposure to the allergen(s), or appropriate medicine to treat the allergy should allow the symptoms to subside. Over-the-counter antihistamines are often suggested as well as decongestants and nasal sprays. For more severe cases, doctors may prescribe medicines or immunotherapy to provide relief.
Symptoms that develop over time. If a sore throat creeps up on you or a fever begins to appear after you’ve already suffered other symptoms, you’re most likely dealing with a cold. Unlike allergies, there is no quick ending to a cold because the virus that caused it simply has to work its way out of your system. That said, you can still combat the symptoms of a common cold to alleviate some of the discomfort. Depending on the symptoms, recommended treatments could include drinking lots of fluids, getting more rest, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers and cold remedies as well as decongestants. The duration of a common cold is typically three to 10 days, but more serious viruses or those that go untreated can last up to three weeks.
Symptoms that happen in specific locations. If you’re only experiencing itchy eyes outside or you only wheeze in certain rooms of a home, chances are an allergen is to blame. If removing yourself from a specific environment—whether that be inside or outside—causes your symptoms to disappear, you may have solved the mystery of your misery. To be sure, see a doctor or specialist for a simple allergy test. They’ll be able to confirm (or debunk) your suspicions and recommend treatment accordingly.
Where to Get Help
Regardless of your symptoms, there’s no reason to continue suffering. The Western Washington Medical Group is made up of over 100 providers in the North Puget Sound region with the shared goal of giving their patients the best possible care. If you’re struggling to determine whether or not you suffer from an allergy vs. a cold or if you are certain about it being one or the other and just want some relief, we can help!
For general information or to make an appointment, simply complete the form on our Contact Us page. To seek assistance from our Ear, Nose and Throat/Allergy/Audiology office, please visit their website to make an appointment.