With the transition from winter into spring, we see a number of patients with cold-like symptoms who are unsure if they are suffering from a common cold or just seasonal allergies. FastMed takes a closer look at how to tell the difference between cold versus allergy symptoms.
Allergies or Cold Symptoms: What Difference Does it Make?
Common cold symptoms and allergy symptoms are very similar and can leave you feeling miserable; however, they are treated differently. Colds are caused by viruses that attack the upper respiratory system. Your specific symptoms can vary based on which of the more than 200 viruses is responsible for your cold. Since colds are viral, treatment is aimed at alleviating the specific symptoms instead of curing the illness. Allergies, on the other hand, are triggered by an overactive immune response to a specific allergen. Treatments for allergies are aimed at alleviating the immediate symptoms, as well as avoiding or desensitizing the body to the trigger allergen.
Common Cold Symptoms
The most common symptoms of a cold include:
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose with mucus that may be thick or discolored
A cold may also cause mild body aches, fatigue, and a low-grade fever.
Common Allergy Symptoms
Like a cold, allergies can cause sneezing, nasal congestion, and general fatigue. There may also be a runny nose, but the mucus will typically be clear and watery. Allergies, however, will not cause a fever or the body aches normally associated with a cold. A cough is also not that common unless you have significant post-nasal drip or suffer from asthma.
The Differences Between Allergies vs. Cold Symptoms
There are some important differences between allergies vs. cold symptoms that can help you determine which condition is making you miserable.
Perhaps the biggest difference between cold versus allergy symptoms is when they appear. If your symptoms start around the same time every year or whenever you find yourself in a certain situation, such as near a cat, your symptoms are probably caused by allergies. Colds, on the other hand, are random. Colds are also highly contagious, so you will probably notice your co-workers and family members coming down with the same symptoms, one after another. Allergies are more common in the spring and fall, while colds are more prevalent during the late fall and winter months.
Duration of Symptoms
Most colds resolve within a week to 10 days. Allergies will continue as long as you are exposed to the allergen.
Variation of Symptoms
With allergies, the symptoms may be more intense for the first couple of days of the allergy season, but they will typically be the same from day to day. With colds, the symptoms can change over the course of the illness. For example, you may start out with a stuffy nose that progresses to a sore throat, body aches, and a fever and ends with a lingering cough.
Treatments for Cold Versus Allergy Symptoms:
The best treatment for a cold is plenty of rest. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help alleviate the minor body aches, decongestants can help clear your stuffy nose and sinuses, and gargling with salt water may help ease the discomfort of a sore throat. While chicken noodle soup won’t cure your cold, it is good to take in plenty of fluids, especially if you are running a slight fever.
With allergies, your best course of action is to avoid the offending allergen whenever possible. If your symptoms are relatively mild, over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal sprays may be enough to get you through allergy season.
When to See a Doctor About Allergies or Cold Symptoms
- You should seek immediate medical attention if you have a severe allergic reaction where it becomes difficult to breathe, you develop a rash, or your mouth or throat start to swell.
- You should visit your doctor or a FastMed clinic if you run a fever over 101°F since this could indicate a more serious infection.
- You should see your doctor or go to your local FastMed clinic if your symptoms worsen or last longer than 10 days. It is possible for even a minor cold to develop into something more serious.
Cold vs. Allergy Symptoms: How FastMed Can Help
Our helpful FastMed staff is available seven days a week to diagnose and treat allergies or cold symptoms and other acute illnesses. We have locations throughout Arizona, Texas, and North Carolina to serve you with no appointment necessary.
FastMed Urgent Care owns and operates more than 100 locations across Arizona, North Carolina and Texas, providing a broad range of acute/episodic and preventive healthcare services 365 days per year. FastMed also provides workers’ compensation services at all of its clinics, and family and sports medicine services at select locations. FastMed has successfully treated more than 5.8 million patients since the opening of its first clinic in 2005, and is the largest urgent care operator to be awarded the Joint Commission Gold Seal of Approval® for accreditation in healthcare quality and safety in ambulatory healthcare. For more information about locations, services, hours of operation, insurance and prices, visit www.FastMed.com.