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3 Ways to Tell Seasonal Allergies and the Common Cold Apart

Sneezing, snuffling, and clawing at itchy, watery eyes. It’s beginning to look a lot like allergy season.

Yes, the grass is getting greener, and the sun is shining longer. And the pollen? Well, it’s just piling up right outside our doors. For seasonal allergy sufferers – that can mean no small amount of misery. Adding insult to injury, it can sometimes be incredibly difficult to differentiate between seasonal allergies and the common cold.

But no worries. There are some telltale signs that what you’re dealing with is flower-powered, not outright sickness. It won’t help you feel any better, most likely, but it should help to put your mind more at ease.

  1. Timing: We’ve touched on one huge differentiator already – and it’s kind of the big, snotty elephant in the room. Perhaps the most significant difference between seasonal allergies and the common cold is sheer timing. Allergy symptoms typically appear in spring, summer, or fall, and can last for weeks or months at a time. Colds, on the other hand, tend to arrive suddenly and peak and dwindle after only a few days. If your symptoms persist for more than two weeks, you likely have an allergy rather than a cold. And if you have a history of allergy symptoms at this particular time of year, chances are slightly better that you’re dealing with environmental maladies, not a viral infection.
  2. Medicinal relief: Another difference between seasonal allergies and the common cold – and one that most people tend to overlook – is that allergies can often be effectively treated with OTC antihistamines like Claritin or Zyrtec. Histamine is the chemical produced by your body when it alerts to allergens. By blocking this chemical from attaching to cells in your body, medicines help to reduce inflammation and irritation caused by your allergy symptoms. Colds cannot be treated with antihistamines, however, as they don’t work against the viruses responsible. So, if you’ve experienced relief from those sneezing fits after using an antihistamine, chances are you’re an allergy sufferer. While antihistamines and other medicines such as antibiotics cannot cure a common cold, OTC pain and fever relievers like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen are often used to provide relief from symptoms like sore throat, headache, fever, and general aches and pains.
  3. Location of Symptoms: While both seasonal allergies and common colds can cause coughing, sneezing, and sore throat from time to time, allergy sufferers often experience nasal congestion accompanied by itchy, watery eyes, a hallmark of spring’s onslaught of pollen and other irritants.

Colds, it should be noted, also tend to affect the entire body whereas seasonal allergies are concentrated in a specific area such as your nose and eyes. Fever, too, is a sign that your body is attempting to burn off an infection. That and the body aches that can result signify a virus is afoot.

Knowing the differences between seasonal allergies and the common cold can greatly help when trying to determine the next steps to achieve relief. Allergy sufferers who wish to better understand their condition should consult with a doctor for further advice on managing their condition this season. First Call Medical Center can help. While there is no cure for the common cold, per se, our team can help you pinpoint a diagnosis and provide a course of action that will have you back on your feet in no time.