When your eyes are watering and your nose is running, you don’t really care what you have just as long as you can get your hands on some relief! Well, in order to know whether it is best to shop the cold medicine aisle, or hunt for seasonal allergy treatments, you first need to know what your symptoms are pointing to as a source for all that discomfort.
Since colds and allergies manifest themselves through similar symptoms, telling the difference between these two can be difficult even for a doctor. Why the similarity? Allergies result when your immune system overreacts to substances such as pollen and dust because it mistakes them as germs. While a cold is caused by a virus, your body reacts similarly by attacking the cold in the same manner that it attacks the allergens it assumes are germs.
The key difference – one of these is contagious and the other just a nuisance.
Colds: Contagious and is spread through germs in coughs, sneezes and shaking hands with an infected person.
Allergies: Not Contagious. Some people do inherit a tendency to develop certain allergies from their parents and it’s believed that allergies are passed from parent to child 100% of the time.
You already know the symptoms have striking similarities, but there are a few signs that tend to point to a cold as opposed to an allergy. Cold symptoms may not develop until days after exposure to the virus, but allergies will hit you immediately upon exposure. Also, a cold is more often accompanied by a sore throat and cough, and allergies are more often associated with itchy, watery eyes. If that walk in the park left you teary eyed then you are likely dealing with allergies. If you woke with a sore throat and cough, you may need to call in sick today. Both a cold and allergies will send your nose into overdrive. When that runny (or stuffy) nose finally produces mucus it will usually stay clear with allergies and turn yellow with a cold.
In this case, downtime isn’t referring to how you spend your leisure, but rather this is the duration of time you spend feeling ‘under the weather’. With a cold, your immune system fights this off in three to 14 days, but allergies can last months (basically as long as you are exposed to the allergen). Colds are usually passed around in the winter, but you can catch a cold any time of year. Allergies can also occur at any time, but many people experience seasonal allergies – those allergies that seem to attack at the same time each year – such as when the flowers start blooming in the spring.
To prevent a cold you can avoid people that you know have a cold since unlike allergies a cold can be transmitted. You should also practice good hygiene, wash your hands frequently, and cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
Preventing allergies is as easy – and as difficult – as avoiding your allergen triggers. Stay in on high pollen count days or when everyone in the neighborhood seems to be mowing their lawns.
Susan Wright is a vet and a freelance writer. Susan often writes about health issues in dogs and in the humans that love them