Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What are the differences between allergies and a common cold?

Cold symptoms usually occur during the cold-weather months and are caused by viruses, while allergies are related to exposure to a specific allergen and are frequently, but not always, seasonal. So why is there sometimes confusion? Why do many millions of individuals believe they are suffering from a cold (upper-respiratory infection) when they are actually dealing with allergies?

The reason lies mainly in the symptoms, which can be similar, particularly at the onset of a cold.
The classic symptoms of allergy are a runny, stuffy, itchy nose and watery eyes accompanied by sneezing and nasal congestion. A person with allergies may also experience headache or feel fatigued, though this is more likely due to a lack of sleep caused by the allergy symptoms than by the allergen itself. Allergy symptoms appear immediately after exposure to the allergen, and a family history of allergies is also frequently present.

Cold symptoms, in contrast, tend to develop over a couple of days, typically beginning with a sore throat, sneezing, coughing, runny nose or headache, followed by continuous nasal or sinus congestion and discharge, possibly followed by fever, general malaise and body aches. Patients frequently sniff and have a red, irritated nose. They also have red, irritated watery eyes.

These similarities between allergy symptoms and certain cold symptoms – the congestion, the runny nose, the watery eyes – are what cause people to think they have a cold rather than an allergy.

There are important differences, however. There is no fever associated with allergies, and an individual usually feels much more ill with a cold. But the biggest difference is in the duration of the symptoms.

Cold symptoms will reach a peak in two to three days and usually be resolved within seven to 10 days. Treatment consists of simply trying to relieve symptoms as the cold runs its course. There is no cure for colds.

Allergy symptoms, in contrast, can be alleviated and should be, because unlike cold, allergy symptoms will continue as long as exposure to the allergen continues.

So if you frequently and persistently seem to “catch” colds, or if you typically experience a “summer cold,” then you could actually be experiencing allergy symptoms. Consult with your physician for advice.

By allergy expert, Sandra Mary Gawchik, DO

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  1. You've raised several good points about allergies and common cold. These 2 really have similarities. The signs and symptoms are indeed identical. However, one is caused by an allergen, while the other is caused by a virus. In case of severe allergic reaction and common cold, it is recommended to consult a doctor. You can also try several flu remedies like flu medications including herbal tea and synthetic capsules.