Allergies vs. Colds

ACHOO! Aches and pain. Sniffle, sniffle. Wheeeeeeze. Are these the terms that describe an allergy or a cold? To knock out either a cold or an allergy, knowing the difference between the two is important when planning your attack.

The similarities between them can lead to confusion about which you are suffering from. One can easily mistake an allergy for a cold, or vice versa. Yet left untreated, allergies can cause more serious conditions such as sinusitis or ear infections.

The main difference between a cold and an allergy is the length of time the symptoms last. While a cold will last a week, allergies can last longer than that. Get a proper diagnosis on your condition before you begin treatment.

Look at the chart below to determine if you have an allergy or a cold:

Allergies Colds
Symptoms Runny or stuffed nose, sneezing, wheezing, watery and itchy eyes. Can include fever, aches and pains, sore and scratchy throat along with allergy symptoms.
Warning Time Symptoms begin almost immediately after exposure to allergen (s). Usually takes a few days.
Duration Symptoms last as long as you are exposed to the allergen, and beyond. If the allergen is present year-round, symptoms may be chronic. Symptoms should clear up within several days to a week.

A cold is commonly caused by a virus. You can get a cold from another person that has that virus, even though you may be in good health. This happens when you breathe in germs or come in direct contact with the infected person.

To prevent yourself from getting a cold, frequently wash your hands, use a disinfectant on any contaminated surfaces and be careful when sneezing and coughing around others.

The best course of action for curing a cold is to let it run its course. Get adequate rest, drink lots of fluids and eat nutritiously. Over-the-counter medications, like an oral decongestant or a nasal saline, will help to alleviate the symptoms, but they will not cure your cold – only time can do that.

Allergies occur during an exposure to an allergen. During this exposure, the nasal cavity becomes irritated and inflamed.

Although the symptoms are close to that of the common cold, allergies are not contagious. If you have a high temperature or an achy body, it is most likely that you have a cold, as this is not caused by allergies.

Common allergens include pollen, dust mites, animal dander, molds, fungi and cockroaches. If you are unsure of what you may be allergic to, talk to your allergist/immunologist about getting a test done that can identify them for you.

There are no cures for allergies, but there are other options. Prescription or over-the-counter medications can treat allergies, as well as allergy shots, a treatment your allergist Pittsburgh/immunologist can give you to reduce your sensitivity to the allergens.