Allergies or a Cold?

Joe-UsePresented by Joe Dayton, Physician Assistant

Bear Lake Family Care Clinic
208-847-4495 or

Cokeville Clinic
(307) 279-5852

You’ve got a cough, runny nose, and congestion.  Do you have allergies or is it a cold?  Sometimes it can be hard to tell because the symptoms of colds and allergies can be very similar.  Although cold and allergy symptoms can be much the same, the causes are very different.  The information below may be helpful to determine if you are simply fighting a cold or if allergies are your problem.

Colds – Colds are caused by many different viruses.  When your body begins to attack the virus, the effects of this immune response are common symptoms of a cold, such as congestion and coughing.  You may also develop fever, aches, and pains. Colds are contagious and you can pick them up when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or shakes your hand.  Your immune system fights off a cold in a couple of weeks, at the most, and then you should stop having symptoms.

Prevention and treatment of colds:  To prevent cold symptoms, try to prevent the cold-causing virus from entering your system.  Keep your distance from people who have colds and wash hands often.  If you have a cold, cough or sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve, where the germs can dissipate and die, to prevent spreading the virus to other people.  There is no cure for a cold, but over-the counter cold medication can be helpful. It is also helpful to rest and get plenty of fluids.

Allergies- Allergies are caused by an overactive immune system.  For some unknown reason, your body mistakes particles such as dust or pollen for germs, and then attacks them. Your body releases a chemical known as histamine, which is what happens when you are fighting a cold.  This usually causes swelling of nasal passages, coughing, runny nose, and sneezing. Itchy eyes are also a common symptom of allergies, but rarely a symptom of a cold.  Allergies do not cause aches and pains as the cold virus usually does.  Allergies are not contagious, but some people may inherit a tendency to develop them.

Prevention and Treatment:  Try to avoid substances you are allergic to, called allergens.  Avoid going outside on days when pollen is high, and re-wearing clothes worn outside.  Common allergens include: pollen, mold, animal dander, and dust mites.  There is no cure for allergies, but symtpoms can be significantly controlled.  Treatment may include the use of over-the-counter allergy meds to prevent symptoms (i.e. Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra), antihistamines to treat current symptoms, nasal spray steroids, decongestants, and/or allergy shots. Avoid use “Afrin” or “4- way” types nasal sprays as these can actually worsen symptoms when used regularly.

If you tend to get a chronic “cold” that develops suddenly and at the same time each year, you may actually have a seasonal allergy.  Usually, a physical examination can determine which condition you have.


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