The Difference Between Allergies And A Cold

By:    Published: October 2, 2012

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For some individuals, a change in the seasons means the onset of a mind-numbing, nose-running, potentially exhausting cold. However, often these colds occur so regularly, that many consumers begin wondering if they are actually dealing with a seasonal allergy rather than the common cold. Understanding the distinction is very important because the treatment for these two conditions is quite different. The common cold and seasonal allergies may manifest some of the same symptoms, but they are as different from one another as a stomach ache and appendicitis. If you deal regularly with symptoms of a common cold but are wondering whether your symptoms may actually be caused by seasonal allergies, a self-diagnosis may help get you on the right track.

Causes Of The Common Cold Vs. Allergies

Both the common cold and allergies may have similar symptoms, but they are caused by two completely different triggers. A cold is caused by a viral infection that is typically transferred through human contact. If you touch a person who is infected or if you touch something that an infected person has touched, you may contract the virus and develop cold symptoms. Allergies are caused by an immune system response. When the body encounters an allergen, such as dust or pollen, the immune system reacts in opposition to the allergen.

Symptom Differences

The easiest, though not completely foolproof, way to determine whether you are experiencing the common cold or seasonal allergies is to evaluate your symptoms. While a cold and an allergic reaction do share some similar symptoms, each has its own unique manifestation that can help you to identify what you are experiencing:

  • Aches and pains usually signify a cold
  • Coughing usually signifies a cold
  • Sore Throat usually signifies a cold
  • Yellow or green mucus usually signifies a cold
  • Clear mucus usually signifies an allergy
  • Itchy eyes usually signify an allergy
  • Sneezing, runny nose and a stuffy nose are characteristics of both

Time And Duration Differences

Another simple way to determine whether you are experiencing a cold or seasonal allergies is to evaluate both the time of year in which the symptoms occur and the duration of the symptoms. Usually, people catch a cold during the winter months when the immune system is lowered as a result of decreased vitamin intake. Seasonal allergies, on the other hand, are typically experienced during the other three seasons of the year. However, a summer cold is possible, so this test is not foolproof. One way to differentiate between the two is to examine the duration of the symptoms. With a cold, the symptoms usually occur in succession: sneezing, runny nose and congestion, while an allergic response triggers multiple symptoms all at once. A cold typically lasts for a week or so while allergies can last for much longer.

Different Treatment Options And Prevention Methods

Understanding the difference between a cold and allergies is important because the treatment options and prevention methods are completely different. To avoid catching a cold, you should:

  • Dress warmly in cold weather
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Avoid putting your hands near your face or in your mouth

Avoiding allergies can be harder to do, but these tips may help:

  • Frequently washing bed sheets
  • Using hypoallergenic pillowcases
  • Avoiding the outdoors during high pollen times

Treating a cold usually involves lots of rest and a daily vitamin regimen as well as taking pain relievers and decongestants. Treating allergies may require antihistamines, prescription allergy medication, eye drops or nasal steroid sprays.

No matter what you're dealing with, a cold or allergies, treating your symptoms promptly can help you to avoid further complications. If you don't treat a cold quickly and effectively, it can run your immune system into the ground and make you susceptible to further illnesses. Allergies may not destroy your immune system, but failing to treat the symptoms can lead to a miserable allergy season.

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