Sneezing, wheezing, runny nose, teary eyes-but do you have a cold or allergies? Sometimes the symptoms of colds and allergies are so similar that you aren't quite sure which one you have. If your colleagues at work are giving you the evil eye because they are sure you are spreading your cold virus around, you need information fast.
Comparing Colds and Allergies
Colds are caused by viruses, which you do get from other people. Things like pollen, pet dander, dust and chemicals in the environment cause allergies. They can also be triggered by a change in temperature, something you ate or something you touched. You can't catch an allergy from someone. Allergies can develop at any time in your life, so just because you have never suffered from one before doesn't mean you don't have one now.
Colds and allergies can both occur at any time of the year, but allergies are more common in the spring and summer and colds are most common in the fall and winter. It's possible to have a cold and an allergy at the same time, but usually you will have one or the other. Allergic reactions can be life threatening very quickly, but colds are rarely life threatening, unless complications arise.
Symptoms of Colds
A cold starts with a scratchy throat, stuffy or runny nose, sneezing and feeling run down. Children may run a slight fever that is usually less than 101 degrees. Adults rarely have a fever with a cold. Many people have a cough and mild chest congestion, but wheezing rarely occurs with a cold. The nose may run profusely and become sore and red. The nasal secretion is thin and clear at first, but after a few days, it may become thicker. Colds generally clear up in a week to ten days.
Symptoms of Allergies
An allergic reaction may also begin with a runny nose and sneezing. The nose may also seem to itch. The nasal secretion may be profuse and the nose may turn red from wiping, but the secretion rarely thickens like that of a cold. The eyes may water, itch and become puffy and reddened, symptoms that rarely affect cold sufferers. Allergies can also cause a cough and allergy sufferers may also wheeze, have tightness in their chest and feel like they can't breathe well. Allergy sufferers can also get a scratchy throat from secretions draining into the throat.
Allergy symptoms that are similar to a cold come from inhaled allergens, but this kind of reaction can also come from an allergy to something you ate or touched. If you always seem to have a cold at certain times of the year, such as spring, you probably are allergic to some kind or kinds of pollen shed during that time of the year. In the winter and fall, allergies may be from inhaled mold spores or pollutants in the air, inside your home or workplace.
Colds sometimes cause headaches, as do allergies. People with allergies may also have sensitivity to light-bright light makes the eye symptoms worse. A severe allergic reaction may make you feel tired, but that should resolve itself with rest, treatment of symptoms and removing the allergen. Allergies don't go away unless the substance that caused the reaction goes away.
Allergies can also cause skin symptoms like a rash or hives. Colds cause neither. In some cases, allergies cause vomiting and diarrhea. Colds rarely cause either.
Because allergies cause the body to release histamines, which trigger the allergic symptoms, an antihistamine will make allergy sufferers feel better. They seldom help cold sufferers. People with allergies may recognize when their symptoms are triggered, even though they can't quite pinpoint the cause. When the cause of the allergy is removed, the symptoms will clear up fairly quickly.
Allergies can have serious consequences and can cause death. People who have allergy symptoms that are frequent or bothersome should consult a doctor.
Doctors can test for allergies. There are both blood tests and reactive tests, where the skin is scratched and allergens are applied to test sensitivity. There are many prescription medicines that can treat and control allergy symptoms. The doctor may also advise you if the allergy could be life threatening and what to do about treating severe reactions.
Although your friends and family won't get allergies from you, they could also develop allergies if the reaction is caused by something in the workplace or home, such as mold. A little research to discover the cause of a reaction may help everyone.
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