Cold, allergy or flu? Know the difference for best treatment.
You are sneezing , have a runny nose, and a sore throat …pretty much feeling yuck!! Is it a cold or an allergy?
Colds and Flu
Colds and allergies often share similar symptoms which can make it hard to tell them apart. People with allergies are sometimes more prone to catching colds.
The common cold is caused by a virus that infects the upper respiratory tract. You can present with a cold many times in a year because there are more than than 100 different viruses that cause the common cold. Symptoms typically associated with colds and flu are runny nose, congestion, cough and a sore throat as well as a possible low grade fever. The mucous tends to change from clear and runny to thicker and discoloured over a few days. Flu tends to be more severe with high fever, chills, body ache and lethargy.
Allergies are not caused by a virus. An allergy occurs when the body’s immune system overacts to a harmless substance (known as an allergen). These allergens are most commonly grass pollens, house dust mite, dog or cat hair. When inhaled, they result in an inflammatory response in your airway passages. You may experience sneezing, nasal itching and stuffiness, and sore throat due to a post nasal drip. Additionally your eyes may be watery and itchy which isn’t generally associated with a cold or flu. Allergies are not associated with a fever, and the nasal discharge tends to stay clear, unlike in colds.
Colds and flu symptoms tend to last for 3-14 days and are generally more common during the winter months of the year. Allergies can occur at any time of the year. Symptoms occur for as long as you are exposed to the trigger allergen. There is sometimes a seasonal pattern with Spring and pollens bringing on exacerbations.
Prevention and Treatment
Knowing the difference between colds and allergies is essential as it impacts on the treatment. Viral colds and flu generally require supportive treatment which includes plenty of bedrest and fluids to stay hydrated. Over the counter preparations including decongestants and cough syrups may be of benefit but are not without side effects so should be used with care. If symptoms persist beyond 10 days, a doctor should be consulted to exclude a secondary infection. Colds and flu are highly contagious so avoid close contact with anyone who is symptomatic and handwashing is an important preventative measure.
The treatment of allergies often requires oral antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays. Knowing what triggers your allergies is important as avoidance measures can reduce or even prevent symptoms. An allergy specialist will be able help you with this by doing a skin prick test or a blood test.
As much as we wish away the winter germs and colds, spring will be upon us with its pretty yellow pollens. So take stock of your symptoms and how long they last to help you decide what’s causing your trouble!