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Common Cold or Allergies? How to Really Know the Difference…

Cough, wheezing, stuffy nose.. how do you really know if you are sick with a cold or have allergies? But you never had allergies before, so you must have the common cold? Right?… Think again.

Allergies
Let me break it down for you know how to detect each condition. What exactly is an allergy? An allergy is an overreaction of the human immune system to a foreign protein substance (aka “allergen”) that is either eaten, breathed, injected or touched. The result can be coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose and even a sore or scratchy throat. (Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America)

Common Cold
Under the weather… sick as a dog…  however you call it, you just feel terrible. Symptoms of runny nose, sore throat, coughing, fatigue- and you’ve diagnosed yourself with a cold. The common cold is caused by hundreds of different viruses. But here’s essentially what happens:

  • Contagious virus gets into your body
  • Virus triggers your immune system
  • Immune system attacks it
  • Side effects of your body’s immune response are typical symptoms of a cold:
    • Sneezing
    • Coughing
    • Sore throat
    • Congestion

After several days to a week, your immune system will fight off the virus and your symptoms will cease. Your cold should not last longer than two weeks or you may have allergies or possibly another medical condition. Before you just decide it must be allergies, seek medical attention and let your doctor decide that for you.

Why do allergies and the common cold have similarities in symptoms?
When you have an allergic reaction, that means you have an overactive immune system. Oddly, your body mistakes  nonthreatening substances for germs (i.e. pollen or dust) and attacks them. Just like when you have a cold, your body releases histamine, which causes the same symptoms you have with the common cold- sneezing, coughing, scratchy throat, etc.

Ok so tell me how to know the difference between an allergy or a cold!
The most noticeable and important difference is that the common cold does not last longer than two weeks (14 days). If you tend to get cold symptoms suddenly and it occurs at the same time of the year, you probably have allergies. If you have general aches and pains, you probably have a cold. Though symptoms of a cold often vary from person to person and vary based on the virus you have, but there are some symptoms that are NOT associated with allergies: general aches and pains and a fever.

Both allergies and the common cold require medical attention. Whether you need to control your seasonal or nonseasonal allergies, or help your immune system fight off the virus associated with the common cold. Click here for a better visual on the differences between a cold and allergies (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

Please note: you should always seek medical attention when experiencing unfamiliar symptoms or when symptoms escalate or do not cease after several days.

Written by: Dr. Douglas T. Mehaffie

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