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Colds vs. allergies: Know the difference

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Do you know the difference between colds vs. allergies? Sometimes the symptoms are very similar. Our chart helps you determine which you are suffering from.

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?

“Symptoms associated with both viral upper respiratory infections (oftentimes referred to as the common cold), and allergies can be very similar, and include sneezing, nasal congestion and nasal drainage,” said Dr. Kevin Keller, a Marshfield Clinic allergist.

“However, there are certain things to look for that can help determine the difference. These include:

  • whether the initial onset of symptoms began with a sore throat.
  • the duration of symptoms (typically no more than 10 days).
  • development of yellowish nasal discharge.

All of these are more common with viral upper respiratory infections,” Dr. Keller said. “In addition, symptoms associated with a viral infection oftentimes progress stepwise over several days beginning with a sore throat, followed by sneezing, post nasal drainage with throat clearing, nasal congestion, and anterior nasal drainage.”

On the other hand, Dr. Keller notes that symptoms resulting from allergies oftentimes all occur together, may include ocular allergy symptoms (which are not typically seen with viral upper respiratory infections) and may last for several months.

“‘Colds’ are the result of a viral infectious process involving the nose, throat, and sinuses, while allergies are caused by a misdirected immune response  that identifies harmless substances in the environment as potential threats and makes a response against them,” he said.

Recommended treatment for the common cold may include getting plenty of rest, pain relievers, and decongestants. For prolonged symptoms that are not improving, consider evaluation by a healthcare specialist.

Treatment of allergies may include nasal corticosteroid preparations, both nasal and oral antihistamines, decongestants and, in more severe cases, allergy testing to determine the specific allergens which the individual needs to avoidance in the environment. Allergy immunotherapy (allergy shots) may be recommended, and can be quite effective when formulated and administered appropriately.

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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,” he added. “These can provide an effective cure for some people, while for others the shots can at least control their allergies.”

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