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It's Spring – Is It a Cold or Allergies?

Cold or Spring AllergiesThe start of spring brings warm weather, rain, flowers, and a lot of coughing, congestion, and runny noses. So, is it the common cold or are allergies triggering these uncomfortable symptoms?  Since it can be hard to differentiate between these conditions, here are a few tips to help determine whether it’s a common cold or allergies causing your stuffy nose.
Common Colds can be caused by over 200 different viruses. These viruses can enter your body when you come in contact with a person who is already sick with a virus. Since most cold viruses are spread through respiratory droplets, covering coughs and sneezes and proper hand washing are extremely important to prevent spreading your cold to others around you.
When your immune system recognizes that there is a cold virus present, it begins to attack it. Your body experiences “side effects” of this attack, like congestion and cough. When your immune system successfully fights off the virus, symptoms resolve. Most colds will last 5 to 7 days.
Allergies, unlike colds, are not contagious.  They are caused by exposure to allergens; such as dust, dander, mold or pollen. When your immune system senses a specific allergen it is sensitive to, chemicals called histamines are released. These histamines trigger symptoms like runny nose, coughing, and sneezing. Since your immune system has no way of fighting off the allergens, symptoms caused by allergies tend to last much longer than symptoms from a common, viral cold.
Differences between a cold and allergies:





3-14   days

Days to   months,

as long   as there is continued exposure to the allergen

Time of   Year

Commonly   during the winter, but possible at any time.

Any time   of year, but some allergens appear seasonally.

Onset of   Symptoms

A few   days after infection with a virus

Immediately   after exposure to the allergen.
















Itchy,   watery eyes



Sore   Throat



Runny or   stuffy nose


(usually   thicker discharge)


(usually   thinner discharge)

As you can see, symptoms of common colds and allergies are very similar. A key difference is how long symptoms last. Common colds rarely last longer than 14 days. If you are continuing to experience symptoms after 14 days, allergies or a more serious infection may be causing your problems and you should see your doctor for a complete evaluation.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for the common cold. All you can do to feel better is to treat your symptoms while your body fights off the virus. Get plenty of rest. Drink a lot of fluids such as water and clear soups. Fluids help loosen mucus and prevent dehydration. Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke, which can make cold symptoms worse. Analgesics like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can relieve aches and reduce fever. Some over the counter cold medicines contain ingredients that may reduce cough or thin mucus. Be sure to read all labels on over the counter medicines very carefully. If you have questions about them, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
If you can’t avoid exposure to the allergen you are sensitive to (like pollens, molds, pet dander, or dust), there are several different medications available to treat symptoms caused by allergies. Choosing the right one for you depends on the specific symptoms you are having, your age, and your overall health. Over the counter antihistamine medications (some brand names: Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra) help reduce the sneezing, runny nose and itchiness of allergies. These work best if they are taken before a person is exposed to the allergen. Some of these antihistamine medications can cause drowsiness, consult your pharmacist or doctor to learn more details about antihistamines. Over the counter decongestants help temporarily relieve stuffy nose symptoms but should only be used for short periods of time. Decongestants can raise your blood pressure, so it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before using them, especially if you have high blood pressure. If over the counter measures are not keeping your allergy symptoms in check, there are additional types of allergy medications available by prescription.
PhysicianOne Urgent Care providers are available 7 days/week with extended hours to evaluate your symptoms when it works for your schedule. We can help discuss which options are best for you to treat seasonal allergies and help provide relief, fast. For more information on specific types of allergens and how to avoid them, visit www.acaai.org/public/advice/rhin.htm

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