Those troublesome symptoms have started once again — your nose is running, your eyes feel like sandpaper, and your throat hurts. You feel terrible, but you can’t be totally sure why. Is it a common cold or a seasonal allergy?
Unfortunately, the two conditions can look very similar. But there are ways to tell the difference between allergies and a cold so that you can start feeling better.
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It Could Be an Allergy or a Cold
Though they look the same, colds and allergies result from two different irritants in your body.
- Colds can come from viruses that attack your immune system. They may leave you feeling congested and fatigued.
- Allergies, on the other hand, are the immune response your body has to a (usually harmless) trigger, like dust or pollen. For seasonal allergies, your immune response will often leave you with itchy, watery eyes and a runny nose.
While many people have seasonal allergies in the spring or fall, you can get a cold at any time of year.
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Differences Between Allergies and a Cold
Because both allergies and colds affect your respiratory system, common symptoms like a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing, and coughing fits can be caused by allergies and colds.
Fortunately, there are a few key ways to tell the difference between allergies and colds. Besides the symptoms mentioned above, a cold is more likely to exhibit these symptoms:
- Severe sore or aching throat
- Head/body aches
- Symptoms ease up after seven to 10 days
Cold symptoms that last longer than two weeks may indicate a more serious infection, so call your doctor.
“The average adult gets the common cold two to three times per year,” says Shane Eikenberry, MD, a primary care doctor at Greater Pittsburgh Medical Associates–UPMC. If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, you’re probably suffering from allergies instead of a cold:
- Watery/itchy eyes
- Symptoms that persist over several weeks
Treating Allergies vs. a Cold
There’s no cure for the common cold or allergies — antibiotics won’t help. That being said, you can ease your symptoms with over-the-counter cold or allergy medicines.
If you’re still not sure if you have allergies or a cold, or you’re wondering how to treat either, talk to your doctor or make an appointment at the UPMC Comprehensive Allergy-Immunology Clinic. They can help determine what your symptoms mean and get you on the right track to feeling better.
About Primary Care
A bond between doctor and patient can be extremely valuable, and that’s what you get with UPMC Primary Care. When you work with a primary care physician (PCP), you develop a lasting relationship. Your doctor will get to know you and your history and can plan your treatments accordingly. Our PCPs offer a variety of services, including preventive care and treatment for both urgent and chronic conditions. We also operate primary care walk-in centers where you can get treatment without an appointment.