A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Colds vs. allergies: Know the difference

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Know the difference between colds vs. allergies

As we move from fall and into early winter, along come the runny noses, watery eyes and sneezes we all recognize as symptoms of the common cold. Or are they?

It may well be that you’re suffering from allergies. How can you tell for sure?

“Because the symptoms of these conditions are very similar, it can be difficult to tell the difference,” said Dr. Farhat Kokan, a Marshfield Clinic allergist.

“The common cold is one of the viral infectious diseases of the nose, throat and sinuses,” she noted. “Germs that cause colds are highly contagious and can be passed simply by touching something that was touched previously by an infected person or through hand-to-hand contact.”

Allergies, on the other hand, result from an overactive immune system that identifies harmless substances in the air as potential threats in some individuals.

“In this case, the body goes to war by releasing chemicals to fight the allergy, resulting in nasal congestion, sneezing and runny nose,” Dr. Kokan said.

There still is no cure for the common cold, although some over-the-counter medications may temporarily ease some symptoms. But if it’s an allergy, you do have options.

“The key is early diagnosis and treatment,” Dr. Kokan said. After confirming allergies by doing special skin testing, they can be treated with antihistamines (Allegra®, Claritin®, Zyrtec®) or prescription medications.

Allergists also often do a 360-degree evaluation for asthma, sinusitis and acid reflux, conditions that cannot only mimic allergies or cold but can complicate them.

Care My Way® gives quick treatment for common conditions like the cold or seasonal allergies. Download the app to get started.

Immunotherapy treatment for allergies

“When someone can’t be treated effectively with these medications, he or she may be a candidate for immunotherapy, or allergy shots,” she added. “These can provide an effective cure for some people, while for others the shots can at least control their allergies.”

Check out our colds vs. allergies comparison chart.

Cold vs. allergy chart


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