Mythbusting: cold or allergies?

stay well allergies cold2

Sneezing’s more commonly a symptom of seasonal allergies.

For many Americans, springtime is also allergy season; an estimated 20–40% of adults in America are affected by seasonal allergies. The common cold is the most common infectious disease, with an average of 2-4 infections a year in adults and even more in children. Both conditions are quite common and share some of the same symptoms, such as runny nose and stuffy nose.

But they’re different diseases. Common colds can be caused by over 200 viruses and are contagious. When you get one of these viruses, your immune system attacks it. Allergies, on the other hand, are caused by exposure to outdoor allergens such as pollen and airborne mold spores. Your body’s immune system fights pollen and other antigens similar to how it fights common cold viruses – by releasing chemicals such as histamine, which causes symptoms like runny nose and sneezing.

If you’re not sure whether you’re suffering from allergies or a cold, the following table can help.

allergy and cold table stay well walgreens

Additionally, here are a few common differences:

  • Cough, sore throat, and general aches and pains are more commonly due to colds. While cough can sometimes be due to an allergy, it’s commonly due to a cold. Other common symptoms of the common cold are sore throat and aches and pain.
  • Colds can last 3-14 days, while allergies can go on for weeks. If you’re suffering for only as long as you’re exposed to an allergen, it’s probably due to allergies. Cold symptoms can last from 3 to 14 days.
  • Allergies tend to reoccur at certain times of year; colds can happen year round. If your allergy symptoms occur at only certain times of the year, especially in the spring, summer and fall (when high pollen counts are common), then you might have seasonal allergies. Each of these seasons has higher counts of certain of pollen in the air. Tree pollen counts are high in spring, grass pollen in summer, and weed pollen in fall.
  • Prevention is different between the two. The best way to avoid seasonal allergies is to know and avoid your allergy triggers. However, that’s not always possible. When you can, stay indoors on dry, windy days, especially mornings, when pollen counts are high. If over-the-counter allergy medications don’t work, if your symptoms are severe, or if you’re prone to secondary infections or worsening of asthma or other respiratory conditions, see your doctor. There’s no foolproof way to prevent a cold – and no way to cure it – but you can treat the symptoms.

Be sure to speak with your health care provider about your own symptoms to see if you have allergies or even a sinus problem.

Be well, stay well ~

Pharmacist Andy

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15 Responses to Mythbusting: cold or allergies?
  1. Martha
    March 26, 2014 | 1:32 am

    Can you post in Spanis?

  2. Alfay
    March 26, 2014 | 1:24 pm

    Have some med for this but never enough

  3. Terry
    March 26, 2014 | 2:52 pm

    I have always heard that nose mucus is clear with allergies and has some color with colds/flu.

  4. Sylvia
    March 26, 2014 | 3:26 pm

    Not sure if my husband has a cold ore Allergies but he sounds horrible what can he take to help him I think it is allergies Mrs Sylvia Self

  5. Colonel
    March 26, 2014 | 4:49 pm

    Here is a Myth to bust: Is it, “Starve a Cold – Feed a Fever” or “Feed a Cold – Starve a Fever” ?

    • Celil
      March 27, 2014 | 11:30 pm

      I believe it’s feed a cold, starve a fever. Neither is true.

    • Joe
      March 24, 2015 | 1:10 pm

      It’s “Eat when you’re hungry, don’t when you’re not”
      ;-)

  6. Celil
    March 27, 2014 | 11:34 pm

    Is it okay to take antihistamines all year?

  7. Pharmacist Andy
    May 2, 2014 | 11:53 pm

    Thank you for your question. Over-the-counter antihistamines are intended for temporary relief of allergy symptoms, such as runny nose, sneezing and itchy watery eyes. You should ask your health care provider if you find that you need antihistamines year round in order to get a diagnosis and to determine, for example, what is triggering your symptoms. Pharmacist Andy

  8. Rozanne
    March 24, 2015 | 7:56 pm

    Can you tell me what cold medications can you take if you have high blood pressure. I can only take liquid or chewable due to I have a Colostomy.

    • Walgreens
      April 1, 2015 | 3:58 pm

      From Pharmacist Andy:

      You should avoid any cold medications that contain decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, phenylephrine, naphazoline and oxymetazoline, because they can increase blood pressure for people with high blood pressure. While certain cold medications are designed for people with high blood pressure, such as Coricidin HBP, few are available as a liquid or in a chewable form. I recommend you ask your local pharmacist and carefully read the ingredients and follow directions for use. Also, consider alternatives to multi-symptom cold remedies. For example, if you need a pain or fever reliever, acetaminophen alone may be acceptable. If you have nasal congestion, try a saline nasal spray. Cough drops may help with other symptoms. Know when to call your doctor, especially if your symptoms are getting worse.

  9. barbara
    March 25, 2015 | 5:52 am

    How can I find out exactly what is causing my allergy symptoms. Runny nose,left side congested, headaches on left side only, and itchy burning eyes?

    • Walgreens
      April 1, 2015 | 8:58 pm

      From Pharmacist Andy:
      An earlier article of mine offered the following information in response to this question: “Allergy symptoms, like runny noses, stuffiness, and sneezing can mimic the symptoms of other conditions. However, allergy symptoms usually last longer than the symptoms of a cold, for example, and are usually the result of an allergy “trigger”, like dust, cat dander, or in the case of spring allergies (hay fever), pollen. http://staywellblog.walgreens.com/medicines-pharmacy/5-things-to-ask-your-doctor-about-spring-allergies/ If the allergen is something you breathe in from the air, your eyes, nose and lungs will likely be most affected. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology notes that if you are allergic to something you eat, it may affect your mouth, stomach and intestines. Food allergies also can also cause skin rashes or even asthma symptoms.

  10. barbara
    March 25, 2015 | 5:54 am

    HOW CAN I FIND OUT WHAT I AM ALLERGIC TO?

    • Walgreens
      April 1, 2015 | 8:56 pm

      From Pharmacist Andy:
      A physician, usually an allergy specialist, can perform allergy skin or blood tests to determine what you’re allergic to. This information is used in combination with a physical examination and medical history to determine what you are and are not allergic to.

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