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There may have been occasions when you've noticed some kind of irritation with your nose, mouth or throat and thought something along the lines of “Oh no! Have I developed a cold?”
The answer may not become clear until later in the day or the day after, when it may turn out or not that the irritation was being caused by an allergy instead. Allergies and colds can be very similar to each other, making it difficult (especially in the early stages at least) to identify whether you’re experienced one or the other.
It can be harder to make sense of what’s going on if you are not fully aware of everything that provokes an allergic reaction from you. Irritations one could assume are due to cold could, in truth, be down to a change in your environment that’s exposed you to an allergen you’re more sensitive to than you realise.
So are there certain differences you could identify to make an accurate, early diagnosis? Since this week is Allergy Awareness Week, here’s some analysis on how cold and allergies can affect you and the parallels and differences that you can pick up on.
Common signs of both
The nose is one part of your body that’s usually affected when you have either a cold or an allergy affecting you. Sneezing and having a nose that is either runny or stuffy are common signs of both colds and allergies. Post-nasal drip, which is when excess mucus runs down the back of your nose to your throat, is also common with both conditions.
Fatigue and weakness are less common than the symptoms that affect the nose, but they can also be an indicator of either condition too. It’s unlikely you can diagnose your condition based on this symptom or the ones mentioned just before.
Ways to distinguish colds and allergies
Certain symptoms are more commonly tied to one type of condition than the other. As revealed before, both colds and allergies traditionally affect the respiratory system. But coughing (caused by excess mucus) is more common and typically more severe when you have a cold compared to when you have an allergy.
Soreness in the throat is also much more likely to be an early sign of a cold rather than an allergy. Colds can also cause the body’s temperature to fluctuate due to a fever. Allergies do not directly cause a fever, although they can make a person more vulnerable to bacterial or viral infections that trigger this symptom. Allergies are also not capable of causing body aches either, whereas colds can sometimes cause this symptom.
On the other hand, itchy and watery eyes can be a symptom of colds but are much more commonly associated with allergies. For some people, allergies can also cause symptoms of eczema to be triggered, but colds do not have this capability.
Another possible way of identifying whether you have a cold or allergy is to consider how long it took the symptoms to appear and how long they last. When you notice symptoms affecting your body, you could ask yourself how quickly they appear. Symptoms of a cold tend to come on gradually over a day or two when you’ve caught one. You may, for instance, feel a sore throat and headache on one day and then all the nose-related symptoms associated with colds follow from the next day onwards. If instead, the symptoms come on suddenly out of nowhere, then it is more likely you are being affected by an allergy.
Thinking also about how long the symptoms last and when they occur can also reveal to you whether you have a cold or allergy. If you have a cold, then the symptoms tend to fade after a week or two. Allergy symptoms can last for much longer depending on the time of year and if you spend a lot of time in an area that has triggering allergens in the air.
If symptoms are affecting the respiratory system on a regular basis and around the same time periods each year, one could mistakenly assume they are just particularly vulnerable to colds. The truth, more likely, is that the body is responding to seasonal allergies – also known as hay fever.
Treatments for cold and allergies
Whether you experience a cold or an allergy, the symptoms are without a doubt really annoying! Even worse is that some people can be vulnerable enough to certain allergies that they can cause anaphylaxis - a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.
If you suspect you have an allergy which was previously mistaken for colds, then you could speak to your doctor or a pharmacist to diagnose your condition and the best steps to take to avoid symptoms repeating again. Happily, there are treatments you can buy from pharmacies which are capable of treating symptoms associated with common colds and allergies including hay fever.
At Doctor-4-U you can order medicines specially designed for treating allergies, including emergency treatments for anaphylaxis such as Epipen and Emerade. You can also easily order certain medications that are commonly used to ease the symptoms of common colds, such as Ibuprofen, for instance.