How do I know if I’m sick or if it’s just allergies? What’s the difference between allergies and a cold?

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How do I know if I’m sick or if it’s just allergies? What’s the difference between allergies and a cold?

Wondering if you’re sick or just dealing with allergies? It can be confusing, especially when symptoms like itchy eyes, sniffles, sneezing, and a sore throat hit you. The changing seasons don’t make it any clearer, as both colds and allergies share similar signs.

Colds affect most people two to four times a year, while over 25% of adults in the US deal with seasonal allergies. Since these conditions are so common, figuring out what’s causing your symptoms is crucial for effective treatment. Luckily, you can differentiate between a cold and allergies with a bit of know-how.

Let’s break down the typical signs of allergies versus illness:

Common Allergy Symptoms

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Coughing
  • Skin rashes or hives
  • Clear mucus

These symptoms often arise due to allergens like pollen, pet dander, or dust mites. Yet, they can mimic other illnesses, adding to the confusion.

Dealing with allergy. Office worker holding napkin while dealing with seasonal allergy in the office

What’s the difference between allergies and a cold?

Both allergies and colds share certain symptoms such as congestion, runny nose, and sneezing. However, there are distinct differences in symptoms between allergies and illnesses. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Allergy Symptoms:

  1. No Fever: Allergies may exhibit symptoms like a runny nose or itchy, watery eyes, but they won’t cause a fever. This is because allergies occur when your immune system reacts excessively to irritants, such as pollen or pet dander.
  2. Seasonal Patterns: Allergy symptoms often follow a specific pattern and depend on the triggering allergen. For instance, if you have a seasonal allergy to pollen, symptoms may appear in early spring during blooming seasons. These symptoms are likely to persist for weeks until the allergen season subsides. In contrast, the common cold typically lasts 7 to 10 days, according to the CDC.
  3. Sneezing: If sneezing is your primary symptom, it’s more likely to be allergies. Illness symptoms may involve more severe symptoms like coughing or a sore throat.
  4. Clear Mucus: A runny nose with clear mucus is indicative of allergies. Yellow or green mucus is more likely associated with a viral infection.

Illness Symptoms (Cold/Flu/COVID-19)

It’s crucial to recognise that certain symptoms, such as sneezing or congestion, can be shared between both allergies and illnesses. In such instances, the duration of symptoms, accompanying signs, and your exposure history can provide important clues.

  1. Fever: While a fever is not common with a cold, it is a clear indicator of a viral infection. Fevers are not associated with allergies.
  2. Body Aches and Fatigue: If you’re experiencing widespread body aches and fatigue, it’s more likely a sign that your body is combating an infection rather than allergies.
  3. Sore Throat: A persistent sore throat is typically a sign of a viral infection. Although allergies can cause a sore throat due to postnasal drip, this symptom usually resolves quickly when you’re upright and active.
  4. Sudden Onset and Rapid Improvement: Viral infections often have a sudden onset of symptoms. The common cold typically lasts 7 to 10 days, the flu lasts 4 to 7 days, and COVID-19 symptoms can range from 2 to 14 days after exposure.

When to Seek Medical Advice: If you’re uncertain about your symptoms or they worsen, it’s advisable to consult your physician. Specifically, seek medical advice when:

  • You have a high fever.
  • Your symptoms persist or worsen.
  • You experience severe symptoms such as shortness of breath.
  • You have underlying health conditions that could complicate your condition.

How to deal with allergies?

Seasonal allergies are getting worse each year, thanks to climate change and higher carbon dioxide levels causing increased pollen levels. But fret not – there are simple home remedies to bring you relief.

For mild allergy symptoms, try these remedies:

  1. Monitor Indoor Air Quality: Keep windows closed during high pollen seasons and stay informed about pollen counts.
  2. Over-the-Counter Relief: Consider antihistamines and decongestants after consulting your doctor.
  3. Saline Rinses: Clear your sinuses with saline rinses.
  4. Air Purifiers: Use FSA/HSA-eligible air purifiers to capture and eliminate indoor allergens. Remember to change filters regularly.

For more tips on managing allergies, check out our blog on handling allergy seasons.

Allergy Testing and Diagnosis

If your symptoms are severe, consider allergy testing with skin or blood tests. Consult an allergist for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Cold & Flu Prevention Tips

Defend against cold and flu with these tips:

  1. Vaccination: Get your annual flu shot and consider updated COVID-19 booster vaccines.
  2. Avoid Close Contact: Stay away from sick individuals and, if unwell, stay home to prevent the spread of illness.
  3. Good Hygiene: Wash hands frequently, and cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, as viruses spread through droplets.
  4. Air Purification: Invest in an air purifier like Molekule’s to continuously filter and purify indoor air.
  5. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water to support your respiratory system and immune function.
  6. Boost Your Immune System: Maintain a balanced diet, exercise regularly, stay hydrated, and get enough sleep for a healthy immune system.
Migraine, headache. Young african woman student freelacer suffering from fever coronavirus flu cold, rubbing her temples at workplace using laptop.

How to Relieve Illness Symptoms

If you think you’re unwell, here are some options for relief:

  1. Over-the-counter Medications: Use cold medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to reduce fever and alleviate body aches.
  2. Nasal Spray and Decongestants: Over-the-counter options can help relieve congestion.
  3. Stay Home: If you suspect illness, take a day or two off to prevent spreading it to others.

Distinguishing between allergy and illness symptoms can be tricky due to their similarities. Understanding these differences is crucial for proper treatment and overall well-being. If you’re unsure about your symptoms, consult your doctor for a tailored treatment plan. We hope this information proves useful, enabling you to take proactive steps for managing allergies and enjoying a more comfortable, symptom-free life.

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