Allergies vs. Colds
Many of our patients come to us thinking that they have frequent colds, when in fact, they have allergies. So how can you tell which one you have?
A cold usually starts with scratchy or sore throat. Usually, they start with chills, fever, headaches and body aches followed by runny nose and coughing. Most of the time, there is sneezing, runny nose with slightly discolored yellow or green mucus. After few days, you will recover completely even without medications.
On the other hand, with allergies, you may have “constant” runny nose, sneezing, itchy nose and nasal congestion. Your eyes may become itchy, red, watery or swollen. A tickle in the throat that may cause sore throat is due to a post nasal drip in the back of your throat. It makes you clear your throat constantly. Any nasal discharge or post nasal drip will be completely clear and watery. Your ears may feel clogged or full. You may get headaches.
Allergies are constant or sometimes seasonal recurring at the same time every year. They are long lasting. They never come with fever. You may sneeze multiple times in a row. Your nose may start running clear “like a faucet” all of the sudden. Symptoms can start suddenly without warning.
People think they have many colds in a year and they think their immune system is weakened so they keep getting sick with frequent colds and their cold does not go away, it lingers…and it may go in their chest and cause them asthma-like symptoms with coughing that lasts weeks, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath …sometimes, their colds will cause them sinus infections that will be treated with antibiotics for an extended period of time and they may become chronic…while in reality, they have symptoms of allergies that left untreated may cause complications of sinus infections and asthma symptoms.
Allergies affect the quality of your life. Allergies can start at any age and in any environment. Allergies change over time. They may worsen or improve depending on the environment. Allergies are hereditary. It is due to the genetic make up of the person, and family history is important.
We often are asked how to treat allergies at home. Most oral non-sedating antihistamines such as Claritin and Allegra and somewhat sedating ones such as Xyzal, Zyrtec and Benadryl are now available over the counter. For allergic and non-allergic rhinitis, topical steroidal nasal sprays such as Flonase, Clarispray, Nasacort or Rhinocort may be used as well and they are available over the counter. Eye drops such as Zaditor or Opcon-a may also be used for allergic conjunctivitis. The most important issue with oral antihistamines is you build tolerance over time and they stop working…
Treating colds at home is different. If you have fever, you may use over the counter Tylenol or Advil for fever control. For congestion, you may use Sudafed and/or combinations of decongestants and antihistamines such as Tylenol Cold & Sinus or Mucinex-d if you need an expectorant. For most colds, hydration, rest and good nutrition is important for quick recovery.
If you get more than one or two colds in a year and your symptoms linger over time, you may have allergies. An allergist can obtain a thorough history from you, perform a physical examination and determine if you are a candidate for allergy skin testing. Allergy skin tests are the gold standard in diagnosing allergies and there are laboratory tests as well that measure and identify allergens. These tools will help the allergist in designing a plan of treatment that can include environmental control, medications and immunotherapy (which is the ultimate treatment that cures allergies and not just stop the allergy symptoms temporarily). Treating your allergies will prevent recurrent sinus infections and asthma complications. Treating your allergies will improve your quality of life.
If you'd like to see an allergist, please contact us at (561) 627-6277 in Jupiter, FL or (772) 286-7490 in Palm City, FL or click here to contact us online.