Is it a Cold or Allergies? Determining the Cause of your Springtime Woes in Connecticut

Posted by Dr. Helen Ede on May 23, 2019 7:39:00 AM

Spring has finally arrived in Connecticut, and it has brought a whole host of allergy problems. Although we had a cool beginning, this spring promises to be especially bad for allergies, mainly due to increased carbon dioxide levels. Runny noses and itchy, red eyes will likely abound.

However, just because it is allergy season doesn’t mean that your ailments aren’t the result of a common cold. While most people associate getting colds in the winter,  it is possible to get a cold any time of the year, particularly in the spring. While environmental allergies and colds have similar symptoms, there are some important differences to distinguish between so that you can properly address treatment of your symptoms. Here is how to tell the difference between these two conditions as well as some measures you can take to prevent catching a cold and alleviating your allergies.

Cold vs. Allergy Causes

A cold is a viral illness. The CDC reports that common colds are the main reason that children miss school and adults miss work. Each year in the United States, there are millions of cases of the common cold. Adults have an average of 2-3 colds per year, and children have even more.

Environmental allergies, on the other hand, are a result of your immune system’s response to allergens. Allergens include dust, pet dander, and - most notoriously - pollen. Allergies can be frustrating and challenging, but they are not contagious.

Cold and Allergy Symptoms

Colds and allergies share many symptoms. For example, both of these conditions may cause:

  • - A runny or stuffy nose
  • - Red, watery or itchy eyes
  • - Sneezing
  • - Fatigue
  • - Coughing
  • - Sore throat

Despite the similarities, there are a few notable differences between colds and allergies. A cold may make you feel achy or cause muscle soreness, while allergies generally will not. Also, a cold might be accompanied by a fever, but allergies alone do not cause fevers.

Allergies tend to hit you quickly with full force. Colds more often develop slowly. Furthermore, a cold rarely lasts longer than a week, but allergies can make you miserable for several weeks or months.

The most noticeable difference in colds and allergies is probably the type of nasal discharge seen with each illness. If you have a cold, your nose is more likely to run with thick, yellow or green mucus. Allergies usually result in mucus that is thin, watery, and clear.

Allergy and Cold Prevention

The best way to prevent a cold is to take some basic precautions. Avoid others that have cold symptoms, and wash or sanitize your hands frequently. Of course, washing your hands before you eat or after you use the restroom is important, but also remember that anything you touch - like doorknobs, other people’s hands, and car doors - can potentially harbor the cold virus. When in doubt, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.

Also, try to keep your immune system healthy so that it can fight off colds effectively. Eat a good diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, and make sure to get plenty of exercise. Let your CT primary care physician (PCP) know if you’re having trouble getting over a cold.

The key to allergy prevention is trigger avoidance. If pollen is your allergy trigger, consider wearing a filter mask when you’re outdoors. Also, refrain from hanging laundry outside to dry, as this can expose you to pollen. You can also wear sunglasses when you’re out to help protect your eyes from pollen.

Indoor allergy sufferers should be sure to change their air and furnace filters often. Avoid opening windows or using window fans and be sure to dust only with damp cloths in place of dry dusting. Finally, wash your sheets and linens regularly in hot water and use mite-resistant bedding to cut down on dust mite exposure.

Treatment for Colds and Allergies

There is no vaccine or complete “cure” for a cold. Since colds are viral, antibiotics will not help. Most colds can be managed with over-the-counter medications such as pain relievers, fever reducers and decongestants. However, if your cold lasts longer than a week or seems especially severe, you should see your doctor.

Environmental allergies can also usually be managed with over-the-counter drugs such as antihistamines, cough suppressants, and moisturizing eye drops. Again, if you are finding no relief, consult your PCP.

Fortunately, your primary care physician can diagnose and treat both colds and allergies. Additionally, they’re there to help you with any complications that may occur like high fevers or sinus infections. Don’t be reluctant to contact your doctor at the first sign of problems or if your condition appears to be lingering.  

To find a board-certified PACT primary care physician in Connecticut, please use our searchable list here.

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Dr. Helen Ede works in our new Division, PACT Sterling Primary Care in Madison. To schedule an appointment, please call her office at 203-806-9401 or request an appointment online. 

 

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Topics: Internal Medicine, Family Medicine, Primary Care Physician, Allergies

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