Sneezing, runny noses and watery eyes seem to appear on cue just as the temperatures are getting cooler in the fall. Every year, people with these symptoms find themselves asking the same question: is it a cold or fall allergy?
The age-old confusion results because allergies and colds have a lot in common. There are some ways to tell the difference.
Occurrence of symptoms:
•Colds: symptoms appear one at a time. You may first sneeze, then have a runny nose, then congestion.
•Allergies: the symptoms occur at the same time.
Duration of symptoms:
•Colds: generally 7-10 days.
•Allergies: continue as long as exposed to allergy triggers.
•Colds: yellowish, nasal discharge caused by infection.
•Allergies: clear, thin, watery.
•Colds: less common than with allergies.
•Allergies: occurs in rapid, multiple sequences.
Time of year:
•Colds: most common during winter.
•Allergies: most common spring through fall, when plants are pollinating.
•Colds: may be accompanied by fever.
•Allergies: fever usually not present.
•Colds: sore throat, muscle aches and pains.
•Allergies: itchy nose, ears and throat (especially the palate of the roof of the mouth).
Treatment options for allergies and colds are another difference. For colds, there is no cure but medications can help alleviate symptoms. Try decongestants for congestion; antihistamines for runny nose; and cough syrup or suppressants for coughing. Get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids.
Symptoms of mild allergies usually can be treated with over-the-counter remedies, such as antihistamines or nasal sprays. If allergies are affecting the quality of your life, then schedule a visit with your doctor.
Consider seeing a specialist, called an allergist, who can help figure out what allergens are causing your problems. The allergist may give you a scratch or prick test where tiny amounts of certain allergens are inserted into the skin with needles. The ones you are allergic to will produce red blotches on the skin. Blood tests also are used to determine the source of your allergies.