Do you find yourself coughing or sneezing every spring? Do you get a lingering cold every summer? Are there other questions running through your head, leaving you wondering if you really get a lot of colds or if, perhaps, you’re suffering from allergies? It’s no wonder! These conditions are often confused, but they are very different.
A person experiencing allergies may develop the same symptoms as someone with a cold. However, there are differences worth noting to get the right treatment and relief.
What Is a Cold?
Referred to as the common cold, this viral illness affects the respiratory system. There are over 200 strains of viruses that cause colds, and since all types of cold viruses are contagious, they spread when you touch infected surfaces or are in an environment where airborne droplets are present after someone coughs or sneezes.
When a cold virus enters your body, the immune system defends itself against the infection. That counter-attack is what causes your symptoms.
What Are Allergies?
Unlike colds, allergies are caused when your immune system is exposed to a harmless substance that it mistakes as dangerous. Called allergens, these substances include things like pollen, pet dander, and dust. Because the immune system sees these particles as a threat, it mounts an immune system response to rid itself of the danger, which leads to allergy symptoms.
When exposed to allergens, your body releases multiple chemicals, including histamine. This flood of histamine sets off your allergic reaction. These chemicals irritate and inflame your nasal passages. They also cause coughing, itchy nose and eyes, sneezing, and red, scratchy skin. Unlike common colds, Covid-19, and other viral illnesses, allergies are not contagious.
What Are Seasonal Allergies?
If you experience nasal congestion more often in the spring or fall, you may suffer from seasonal allergies. Sometimes called hay fever, these allergies occur when the body reacts to the pollen that plants emit at different times of the year.
A person with seasonal allergies can develop mild to severe symptoms. When cold-like symptoms appear year-round, the condition is referred to as allergic rhinitis and is caused by constantly present allergens like mold, dust, and pet dander.
Native trees often cause springtime allergies, with cedar, horse chestnut, and poplar being some of the culprits. These trees pollinate early during the spring months and can force allergy sufferers indoors.
As mentioned, seasonal allergies are called hay fever because people often experience allergy symptoms during the hay-cutting months, which fall right in the heat of summer. These allergies are caused by grasses and weeds which pollinate in the middle of summer.
Autumn is the season for ragweed, a plant found throughout much of North America that includes more than 40 species worldwide. It’s a primary cause of fall allergies. Other weeds that can create fall allergy symptoms include mugworts, nettles, sorrels, and fat hens.
Seasonal allergies can also occur during the winter. These allergies result from indoor allergens and flare in the cold months when people spend more time indoors. Mold, dust mites, and cockroaches are among some of the common winter allergies.
What Is the Difference Between the Common Cold and Allergy?
Common colds and seasonal allergies produce similar symptoms and affect the respiratory system. However, they are different. Each condition has particular causes and requires specific treatments. That's why it’s important to understand their key differences.
Although it is not a contagious disease, allergies resemble the common cold. Indoor and outdoor allergens cause sinus swelling and other afflictions, including:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Nasal congestion
- Watery eyes
- Post-nasal drip
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Clear nasal discharge
Except for people diagnosed with allergic asthma, it is rare to develop chest discomfort, weakness, or general pain with allergies.
When you get a cold, you may experience allergy-like symptoms, such as a runny nose or sneezing. However, it usually causes other physical discomforts like:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat or laryngitis
- Low-grade fever
- Body aches and pains
- Post-nasal drip
- Watery eyes
- Mild to moderate chest pain
- Swollen sinuses
When you have a cold, you may not experience all these symptoms, but you will have some of them.
I Have a Runny Nose — Is It a Cold or Allergies?
It’s easy to confuse colds and allergies, as both conditions are common. If you suffer from symptoms that could result from either, take a deeper look at what you’re experiencing. If you have a fever or general aches and pains, it’s likely a cold.
On the other hand, fevers are never associated with allergies. It is also rare to experience body aches and pains from allergies. If your allergies are seasonal, they often last throughout the entire season without abating. Allergy symptoms appear as soon as you’re exposed to an allergen and go away when it’s no longer present. For instance, if you experience symptoms when visiting a friend with cats, but at no other time, chances are it’s an allergy.
Here are other ways to determine if you have a cold or allergies.
Colds and allergies involve different recovery times. If you have a cold, it takes seven to 14 days to feel better. However, allergy symptoms linger until you remove the trigger. And if it’s pollen causing your discomfort, allergy symptoms can remain for weeks to months.
Did you get a cold, but the discomfort lasted more than two weeks? Chances are it wasn’t a virus but allergies. Get an at-home allergy test to verify if you have allergies and identify the specific allergens that cause your symptoms.
Colds are caused by viruses and must run their course before symptoms subside. In most cases, if you have cold-like symptoms, you do not need to undergo tests unless your doctor requests it.
Allergies, on the other hand, can benefit from seeking professional medical assistance. An allergy doctor can determine the cause of your allergies and develop a personalized treatment plan to deal with allergy symptoms that interfere with how you function.
Treating Allergies and Colds: How Can I Relieve Symptoms?
Allergies and colds require different treatments. In most cases, you don’t need prescription medication when you have a cold. Drinking plenty of fluids and resting are the most important actions to take. However, some natural home remedies can help you feel better, including:
- Drinking hot lemon or honey tea
- Taking vitamins to boost the immune system
- Using over-the-counter cough and pain medications
- Moisturizing mucus membranes with saline solutions and nasal sprays
- Running a cool-mist humidifier
The most effective way to prevent allergies is to avoid allergens. However, if reducing exposure doesn’t eliminate symptoms, these medications may bring some relief:
- Nasal steroid sprays
- Eye drops
- Saline sprays
- Allergy immunotherapy
What Is Allergy Immunotherapy?
Allergy immunotherapy is the only allergy treatment that offers long-lasting allergy relief. Immunotherapy works by making changes to the immune system, where your allergy symptoms start. By gradually increasing exposure to allergens, the body becomes desensitized to the allergens, and the immune response lessens. In many cases, it ceases altogether.
Are You Ready for Long-Lasting Allergy Relief?
If you’re ready to find a long-term solution for allergies, contact Wyndly. Our allergy specialists are available 24/7 to help you find lasting relief. Take our two-minute assessment today to see if immunotherapy is right for you, and begin your journey to a life free from allergy symptoms.