Is it a Cold Or an Allergy?

You've got a runny nose, sore throat, chest congestion and a head ache.

So have you caught a cold or is it an allergy attack?

Unfortunately, it's often hard to differentiate and tell for sure. But here's information that may help you to understand and identify the difference between a common cold and an allergy episode. Read on and find out for yourself.

Common cold Vs Allergy

Colds are known to be caused by hundreds of different viruses. When one of these viruses gets into your body, your immune system tries to fight back. Some of the effects of this immune response are lower respiratory tract irritation with the most commonly witnessed symptoms being congestion and coughing.

Symptoms of the common cold usually begin two to three days after infection and often include nasal discharge, excessive sneezing, scratchy throat, cough, and headache. Slight fever and a body ache might also accompany. Cold symptoms can last from two to 14 days and are usually witnessed in winters, though may be contracted in any season.

The mucus released is quite often pale yellow in color. The viral strains which cause cold are contagious and can be easily picked up from touching an infected person's nasal discharges or inhaling infectious particles suspended in the air.

After a couple of weeks, at the most, your immune system fights off the viral invasion and you stop having the symptoms. High fever, significantly swollen glands, severe head ache with facial pain in the sinuses, and a mucus generating cough, may however indicate a serious complication requiring a doctor's attention.

Allergies on the other hand are caused by an overactive immune system. When your body mistakes harmless substances – such as mold or pollen – for germs, it fights back the foreign elements by releasing chemicals called histamines, just as it does when fighting a cold. This can cause swelling in your nasal passages, a runny nose, coughing, and sneezing.

You might be able to differentiate between a cold and allergy by noticing a few factors such as-

Colds are contagious while allergies are usually not.
Colds are accompanied by body ache and in some cases even fever, which rarely is the case with allergies.
The mucus released during colds is yellowish in color whilst allergic nasal discharges are transparent or colorlessly clear.

Cold symptoms surface after a few days of contracting the viral infection while the allergic symptoms usually surface almost immediately after exposure to the allergens.
Cold symptoms in most cases disappear within a week or two while allergic ones might linger on long till the source of allergy (the allergens) are not removed from the close environment.

Prevention and Treatment

Since the causes of cold and allergy symptoms are quite different, preventing them would also require different strategies.

The best way to prevent allergy symptoms would be to avoid contact with substances you're allergic to, called allergens. So if you're allergic to pollen, for instance, avoid going outside on days when the pollen count is high. A few common allergens are dust, mites, cockroaches, a specific food (fish, eggs or soy products), mold, animal wastes, pollen, etc.

The ideal strategy to prevent cold symptoms would be to try stopping the cold-causing virus from entering your system. Washing hands often, keeping your distance from infected people, covering your mouth and nose (with a tissue or your sleeve, rather than your hands) when sneezing or coughing are a few preventive measures. Taking over the counter non-steroidal anti histamines and decongestants might reduce the pains and aches. However, the best way would be to just have plenty of fluids, proper rest and taking steam inhalation or gargling with warm salt water. Intake of hot soups (the famous chicken soup for cold) to soothe your congested nose and hot ginger cinnamon tea to ease your sore throat may also help.

Keeping in tune with your disease or symptoms not only makes the treatment less intimidating but also increases its chance of success. A better informed patient is always better equipped to tackle the disease and discuss the symptoms and treatment options with the doctor, hence lowering the risk to unwanted complications.

Although cold and nasal allergy symptoms are rarely serious, they can sometimes lead to other problems such as sinusitis or middle ear infections. So, if you think you might have allergies – or your cold symptoms seem severe – its better to consult your doctor.

Take care!