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cold-vs-allergy-headerHow to tell a cold from an allergy.

When people feel sudden changes in their body like sniffling, sneezing, stuffy or runny nose and coughing, how do they know if these symptoms come from a cold vs allergy?  Sometimes the common cold can appear as allergies and vice versa. The best way to tell the difference between common cold symptoms and an allergic reaction to airborne allergens is by checking out how the body reacts to each type of condition.  

Here are a few distinctive reactions your body will display to tell you if you’re suffering from a cold verses an allergic reaction.

cold-vs-allergyFive Symptoms to Tell if it's a Cold vs. Allergy

Everyone deals with seasonal changes differently. Because the cold and allergy season can occur simultaneously, knowing if you have a cold or just an allergic reaction can be hard to differentiate.  With the similarities in symptoms, recognizing which one is which will give you a better understanding of your body's natural defensive reaction to the Rhinovirus (common cold) and allergic reactions to airborne pathogens.  Is it a cold or is it an allergy?

One: Runny Nose

Having a runny nose is common with both the cold and allergies.  A runny nose associated with the common cold typically occurs as a direct reaction after nasal congestion and is apparent towards the end of the cold.  On the other hand, a runny nose associated with allergies is directly related to a sneezing episode and is primarily your body's defense mechanism acting to rid the nasal cavity of pollen or other airborne allergens that may be irritating your sinuses.  Cold or allergy?

Two: Coughing

Typically, coughing is not associated with allergy symptoms. Very rarely will you cough as an allergic reaction unless you have an irritating itch in the back of your throat or you’ve ingested food or other inhalants which may irritate the lungs and/or esophagus.  This is more common for people with food allergies than typical airborne allergen reactions.   Additionally coughing associated with allergies is more of a wheezing cough and will not produce mucus.

Coughing associated with a cold is directly linked to chest congestion and the body’s reaction to expel the irritating mucus.  Mucus build-up is common with a cold since the common cold comes from a virus.  Mucus is produced by natural antibodies and created to fight off the virus within the lungs.  Most often, chest discomfort is coupled with a cold and is apparent as soreness and difficulty breathing.

Three: Temperature

Your body will increase in temperature as a normal defense mechanism when fighting off viruses.  While the virus associated with the common cold may produce feverish symptoms, the fever is usually light and typically goes away with antibiotics or over-the-counter medications.  Allergy symptoms never produce a fever since the cause of an allergic reaction is the direct result of irritations to the nasal sinus cavity by airborne allergens such as pollen, pet fur, dander, dust and other airborne irritants.  Therefore, a temperature is a sure site that you are experiencing a cold vs allergy.

Four: Sore Throat

There are rare occurrences wherein you may experience a sore throat as a symptom of an allergic reaction to an airborne allergen.  Yet many people who suffer from allergies will complain of an itchy throat and the soreness associated from that irritation.  Common cold symptoms, on the other hand, most often produce soreness of the throat due to the irritation of the mucosal lining of the larynx and esophagus after frequent coughing episodes.

Five: Duration of Symptoms

Normally, allergic reactions will persist for a period of one week to a few months or over the course of the allergy season. The duration of allergy symptoms are more noticeable by the rapid onset of symptoms once exposed to specific irritating allergens.  Common cold symptoms are gradual and will begin as a head cold and progress to a full blown chest cold.  Colds usually last for 7-14 days and can be treated with antibiotics or decongestants and other over the counter remedies.  It is the gradual nature of the onset of the cold that is most helpful in deciding whether you have a cold vs allergy.

There are as many similarities between a common cold and allergy symptoms as there are differences.  Knowing the difference between the two types of symptoms can mean the difference between having to take off from work and using up your sick days or simply taking over-the-counter and/or prescribed allergy medication. As the cold or allergy season rapidly approaches, you may want to contact your doctor and consult on the best treatment for your specific type of symptoms.

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