The Common Cold vs. Allergies: How to Tell the Difference

Colds are part of the common human experience that most of us experience temporarily from time to time. Allergies are also common, and can make life miserable for months to years without treatment. We haven’t yet solved the mystery of curing the common cold, but a specialist can provide therapy that makes you forget you ever had allergies.

Premier Allergy & Asthma is a highly rated medical clinic that diagnoses and treats patients of all ages for allergies, asthma, and other conditions. Our top-level commitment to your health includes the most up-to-date therapies for allergies and 10 gorgeous facilities located across Ohio for your convenience. 

Whether you live near our office in Dublin, Westerville, Canal Winchester, Lancaster, Marysville, Delaware, New Albany, Hilliard, Grove City, or Grandview, there’s a place for you at Premier Allergy & Asthma.

Find out what our board-certified specialists have to say about allergies versus the common cold and how we can help.

Understanding allergies and the common cold

Allergies are caused by an overactive immune system that mistakes harmless substances in your environment, such as pollen or dust, for toxic invaders that threaten your health and well-being.

This case of mistaken identity causes your immune system to go into overdrive to rid your system of these perceived toxins. This powerful reaction, based on the production of certain substances, such as histamine, results in the sneezing, runny nose, skin rashes, and other common allergy symptoms.

The common cold is due to a virus that invades your upper respiratory tract (nose and throat) and usually burns itself out within 7-10 days. During this time, your immune system correctly goes to work to fight off the virus by producing symptoms like a runny nose and cough to help expel the viral invader from your body.

Cold symptoms resolve after the virus is eradicated. Allergy symptoms occur every time you’re exposed to the substance (allergen) that triggers your faulty immune response.

Cold symptoms versus allergy symptoms

It can be difficult to determine whether your symptoms are due to allergies versus the common cold or both, and only a physician can make that determination. Generally, however, colds include a few symptoms that are not usually associated with allergies, such as fever and generalized body aches.

Probably the most telling factor regarding colds versus allergies is the frequency and longevity of your symptoms as well as the incidence of colds among your family, friends, or coworkers. Colds tend to come and go during certain seasons and are highly contagious, so they spread easily from person to person.

Allergy symptoms are not contagious, and depending on your triggers, may occur seasonally versus year-round. Along with the runny nose and sneezing, allergies can also cause:

Severe allergic reactions may also evolve rapidly into a life-threatening condition known as anaphylaxis, which causes breathing difficulties, rapid heart rate, and loss of consciousness.

Treating colds versus allergies

The common cold is best treated symptomatically with rest, decongestants, and an over-the-counter fever reducer. Chicken soup really does help, too, because it contains an enzyme which helps break up congestion.

Effective allergy treatment starts with an accurate identification of your trigger(s) -- for instance, pollen versus animal dander versus strawberries -- and a customized plan that helps block or prevent your immune response.

Your treatment plan may include oral medications, such as antihistamines, and immunotherapy, which helps train your system to ignore triggering substances.

For lingering symptoms that you think may be triggered by allergies rather than a cold virus, schedule an evaluation at the Premier Allergy & Asthma location of your choice. Call the office or request an appointment online.

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