It’s that time of year again! Trees are blooming, pollen is in the air, and you have a runny nose. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you are probably all too familiar with the warning signs of springtime. However, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between the symptoms of an allergic reaction and those of the common cold. In this article, we break down how to determine if you are experiencing allergies or a cold, and what to do to soothe your symptoms ASAP.
First, what’s the difference?
A cold is caused by a virus that produces an upper respiratory tract infection. As your immune system fights the infection, you may experience coughing, a sore throat, a runny nose, or even a fever. There is no cure for the common cold, so often treatment includes managing your symptoms with plenty of fluids, rest, and sometimes over-the-counter cough and cold medicines.
Allergies, on the other hand, are an immune system response triggered by allergens, like tree pollen or cat hair. This reaction produces histamine, which will trigger allergy symptoms like itchy eyes or a runny nose. Luckily, these reactions can be managed with a variety of over-the-counter antihistamine products.
While colds and allergies are caused by different bodily reactions, some symptoms are common in both cases. Notably, runny or stuffy noses, sneezing, and coughing can make it tricky to tell the difference. However, there are some more distinctive signs you can keep an eye out for.
Indications that you’re experiencing allergies:
1. Your mucus is clear or watery
If your mucus stays clear instead of becoming thick or discolored, you’re likely experiencing allergies. With a cold, you’re more likely to experience thick and green or yellow colored mucus in your nose and throat.
2. Eyes are itchy or watery
This is a symptom that is distinctive to allergies. In fact, itchy eyes could be considered the key indicator that you are having an allergic reaction to something in your environment. You may also notice eye discharge that collects around your eyes. This is known as allergic conjunctivitis and is triggered by allergens like pollen, dander, or dust. If you wake up with sleep in your eyes, you’re likely experiencing allergies.
3. Your symptoms last for a long time
Symptoms of a cold typically develop slowly and then eventually clear up. If your symptoms are persistent day after day, that might indicate an ongoing allergic reaction. Colds usually go away in around 7-10 days, but allergies will keep going so long as you are still exposed to the allergen. If you have gone several weeks without relief, it might be time to make an appointment with an allergy specialist, or get some over-the-counter allergy medicine.
4. Your symptoms get much worse when you’re in a certain place or situation
Allergies are caused by exposure to a particular allergen. If you notice cold-like symptoms every time you’re around a cat, or every spring when the trees start to bloom, those could be indications that you’re experiencing allergies.
Colds, on the other hand, don’t care where you are. If you have a cold your symptoms will persist no matter the environment.
5. Your symptoms start all at once
Colds tend to develop over a few days, whereas allergies are an immediate response to exposure to an allergen. If your runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing started all at once, you’re likely dealing with allergies.
6. It is spring
Seasonal allergies typically begin when trees start releasing pollen at the beginning of springtime. While it is possible to have a cold all year, if your symptoms spontaneously developed right as the flowers are starting to bloom, this might be an indication that you’re having an allergic reaction to the pollen that’s now in the air.
Indications that you have a cold:
1. You have a sore throat
Sore throats are not one of the more common symptoms with allergies. While possible, if your sore throat hurts intensely or does not stop causing you discomfort throughout the day, you likely have a cold.
2. You feel general aches and pains
While general fatigue and tiredness can sometimes be expected from allergy symptoms, feeling achy is a sensation that is more uniquely linked to a cold.
3. You have a fever
A fever indicates that your body is trying to fight off a viral infection i.e. a cold. Fevers are not associated with allergies so if you have a slight one, you could be dealing with a cold. If you have a high fever, this would be a sign that your body is dealing with something more intense than the common cold, and you should call your healthcare provider for advice. A fever is a common sign of the flu. To read more about how to tell if you have a cold or the flu, click here.
4. People around you start exhibiting the same symptoms
Colds are contagious, but allergies are not. While it is possible that those you spend time near have similar allergies to you, if you find you friends are developing similar symptoms after spending time with you, you might be spreading a cold.
5. It’s winter
While colds can happen at any time of the year, they are more common in the winter. If you find your cold symptoms coinciding with the beginning of spring, that could indicate you are experiencing allergies instead.
Managing Your Symptoms:
As mentioned earlier, there are a number of over-the-counter products available that can help you battle your symptoms. In addition, making sure you have added the right supplements into your diet can be key for feeling better faster, and protecting you in the future too.
When looking to fight allergies or a cold, you want to make sure you are taking good care of your immune system. Here are some vitamins we recommend adding to your regimen:
Vitamin C: Boosts your immune system and functions as a natural antihistamine. It has also been shown to help reduce the intensity of respiratory infections, like the common cold!
Probiotics: Boost your immune system which helps you fight off allergies and respiratory tract infections. Probiotics improve gut health which in turn improves your ability to filter out toxins, chemicals, and pathogens, thus protecting you from the substances that cause allergies and infections.
Vitamin D: Plays a role in immune function and reduces inflammation!
For more tips on supplements for your immune system, click here.