How To Tell the Difference Between Allergies & a Cold

allergies vs colds

Photo: Mnomono, Flickr Creative Commons

At long last, winter is finally making way for spring! We couldn’t be more excited to welcome in the season of new leaves, flowers, and even those long afternoon rains.

Of course, spring is also the season of allergies for many of our patients, since those blooming flowers release lots of irritating pollen. If you always suffer from allergy symptoms at this time of year, you probably have no doubts about what’s causing your sniffing, sneezing, running nose, and other problems.

But maybe you’re unsure about whether or not you have allergies. In that case, this article is for you. We’ll be listing some ways to tell the difference between a cold and allergy symptoms. This won’t be quite as helpful as, say, seeing a Philadelphia allergy specialist, but it should help you begin to solve the mystery of your symptoms.

What Is a Cold?

The first step is to define these very different conditions. What we call the “common cold” is actually hundreds of different viruses that all cause similar symptoms. You contract a cold when someone with one coughs, sneezes, or shakes hands with you.

What Are Allergies?

Unlike colds, you can’t “catch” an allergy. They’re the result of an overactive immune system: The body responds to harmless substances like pollen with an immune response. While allergies aren’t contagious, you can inherit the tendency to develop them.

Cold Symptoms Versus Allergy Symptoms

A pollen allergy may look a lot like a common cold, but there are subtle differences between the experience of each:

  • Time of year: With a cold, most often in winter. With allergies, any time of year, but often seasonal.
  • Duration: With a cold, between three and fourteen days. With allergies, symptoms last as long as the allergen is present.
  • Symptoms onset: With a cold, symptoms take a few days to reveal themselves after you’ve been infected. With allergies, symptoms start immediately after exposure to the allergen.
  • Aches: With a cold, sometimes. With allergies, never.
  • Cough: With a cold, often. With allergies, sometimes.
  • Fever: With a cold, rarely. With allergies, never.
  • Itchy, watery eyes: With a cold, rarely. With allergies, often.
  • Fatigue: With a cold, sometimes. With allergies, sometimes.
  • Sore throat: With a cold, often. With allergies, sometimes.
  • Runny or stuffy nose: With a cold, often. With allergies, often.

One of the biggest differences is that a cold will almost never last longer than two weeks. If your symptoms persist after that, they may be the result of allergies — or of another problem, which is why you should see a physician.

If you’re afraid allergies will keep you indoors this spring, come see us! Our experienced Philadelphia allergy specialists can help determine the source of your symptoms and come up with an individualized treatment plan to lessen or relieve them. Our resources include the best in allergy testing, allergy shots, and other treatments.

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