Cold Verses Allergies

Originally posted here by Dr. Karen Tuano, allergy and immunology expert at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Aches and pain. Sniffles. Sneezing. Sore throat. Are these the terms that describe a cold or allergies? Knowing the difference between the two is important to decide what to do and how to treat the symptoms.

The similarities between these two often lead to confusion about which your child is suffering from. One can easily mistake an allergy for a cold, or vice versa. If untreated, they can lead to headaches or other secondary infections such as sinusitis or ear infections.

Colds: A cold is commonly caused by a virus. You can get a cold from another person who has the virus, even though you may be in good health. This happens when you breathe in germs or come in direct contact with the infected person.

  • Usually with fever, aches, sore throat
  • Symptoms last for a few days

To prevent yourself from getting a cold, frequently wash your hands, use a disinfectant on any contaminated surface and be careful when sneezing and coughing around others.

The recommended course of action for curing a cold is to let it run its course. Get adequate rest, drink lots of fluids and eat nutritiously. Over-the-counter medications, like acetaminophen, oral decongestant or nasal saline, will help to alleviate the symptoms, but they will not stop the cold process – only our immune system can do that over time.

Allergies: Allergies occur as a reaction to an exposure to an allergen. Symptoms occur when the allergen is in the air. For example, ragweed pollen is an allergen most abundant during the fall.

  • Your child’s eyes may become itchy, watery and red
  • Frequent sneezing and itchy nose
  • Symptoms last until the season is over, or when the allergen disappear from the air

Common allergens include pollen, dust mites, animal dander, molds and cockroaches. If you are unsure of what you may be allergic to, talk to your doctor about testing that can identify them for you.

Although the symptoms are similar to a common cold, allergies are not contagious. If you have fever or an achy body, it is most likely a cold, not allergies.

There are treatments for allergy conditions, including:

  • Prescription or over-the-counter antihistamines to reduce allergy symptoms
  • Allergy shots or immunotherapy, which reduces your allergy sensitivity to the allergens