Is it allergies or a cold?

This time of year is often known for unpredictable weather and for variable pollen/mold counts in the air. We often attribute allergy symptoms to a cold or vise-versa. “Many people misdiagnose allergies as a cold or the flu, so they never receive appropriate care,” says Stanley Naides, M.D., Medical Director for immunology, at Quest Diagnostics.  He notes that untreated allergies can cause problems, such as sinusitis (a sinus infection due to fluid build-up); middle ear infections (inflammation or fluid build-up in your ear) or can cause asthma.

Allergies are the body’s reaction to outside substances called allergens. When allergens are encountered, the body tries to protect itself by making chemicals, called histamines, which can cause allergy symptoms. Common allergens include airborne particles like pollen, dust, animal dander and mold. Certain foods, insect bites, medications and latex can also cause allergic reactions. Allergy symptoms will vary according to the parts of the body that an allergen touches. Symptoms can include: breathing problems, coughing, sneezing or runny nose; burning, watering, itchy or swollen eyes; itchy skin, hives and/or rashes.

Do you know the difference between a cold and an allergy?  The information in this chart and in this article provides only general guidelines and does not take the place of your health care Provider’s advice, but it may help to prevent delay of treatment.

Symptoms Cold Airborne Allergens
Cough Common Sometimes
General aches/pains Slight Never
Fatigue/weakness Sometimes Sometimes
Itchy eyes Rare or never Common
Sneezing Usual Usual
Sore throat Common Sometimes
Runny nose Common Common
Stuffy nose Common Common
Fever Rare Never
Usual duration 3-14 days weeks

For problems with indoor allergens, there are a few tips to help minimize your problems: dust, vacuum, and wash bedding often; use clean filters in your vacuum cleaner, as well as in your heating/air conditioning units; minimize moisture in the kitchen & bathroom; close windows & doors when pollen counts are high; some house plants can contribute to indoor pollen & mold, so you may need to limit the amount you have. Talk to your Doctor to determine if your symptoms are from an allergy. Allergy testing can help you both choose the appropriate treatment.

Talk to your Doctor and/or Pharmacist before using any over the counter remedies, as many can cause interactions with your prescription medications, especially if you have diabetes, high blood pressure or kidney problems. Be aware that antihistamines can cause drowsiness and dry mouth. Decongestants might cause a jittery or nervous feeling, a rapid heartbeat or interfere with sleeping.

Sources: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology,; National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, http://www.niaid.nih.gov; Asthma, and allergy Foundation of America,; US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health,

Photo credit: David Castillo Dominici


One Response to Is it allergies or a cold?

  1. […] Related articles One of the Standards of Care for Diabetes Includes Getting a Flu Vaccine! Is It Allergies or a Cold? […]

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