Difference Between Cold And Allergy

Difference Between Cold And Allergy

Whenever someone sniffles around you, you automatically assume it to be contagious flu. This reaction is logical but oftentimes people confuse allergy-induced flu with cold.

For example, nasal congestion, runny nose, cough and cold may look like symptoms of a common cold at first. But you may not know that allergies also show up these signs. It is better to learn the difference between two so that you can find an effective treatment for it.

What is common cold?

Cold or common cold is a viral infection. There are so many strains of the virus that are responsible to cause the common cold. Sometimes the number crosses 100.

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The symptoms and nature of them vary but all of them are considered cold. Common features of the cold are as follows.

  • Cold is spread through the air from sneezing and coughing of the infected person.
  • Cold also spreads through physical touch with the infected person.
  • Nasal congestion, cough, sore throat, runny nose and breathing problems are visible signs of a cold.
  • Watery and itchy eyes are rare symptoms of the cold.
  • In severe form, cold can form fever and body pain.
  • Cold is quickly healed.
  • If cold doesn’t heal in a week or more, it transforms into a severe form of infection i.e. pneumonia.
  • People suffering from allergies are usually prone to catch colds.

What is an allergy?

Allergy is a response to the body showing a sensitivity problem. It shows up when the immune system shows an extreme reaction to certain substances, which are called allergens. These allergens trigger the allergic response by releasing certain chemicals into the bloodstream. These chemicals are called histamines.

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The release of histamines causes the allergic symptoms to show up. Some of these symptoms are similar to cold, which confuse people. It includes the following.

  • A sore throat, coughing, nasal congestion and runny nose.
  • Postnasal drip.
  • Rashes on the skin.
  • Itchy and watery eyes

Remember fever and body pains are not signs of allergy. Seasonal allergies are the most common types of allergies but allergen based allergies hit you all year round.

These allergens, which trigger an allergic reaction, are as follows.

  • Pollen
  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Foods
  • Fragrances
  • Animal Dander

The easy differentiation between cold and allergies can be made for the duration of the infected phase. The allergies won’t go away without you taking an anti-allergy medicine for it.

How to treat common cold?

The virus causes the common cold, therefore the medicines used for treating cold belongs to the antiviral class of drugs. Some of the viral strains are not treatable but the medicines given to treat them are usually those, which heal the symptoms.

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The virus naturally completes its course and dies at the end. Meanwhile, if you are using any cold medicine, it will make the symptoms easy and manageable for you. Do not take any antiviral medicines all by yourself. The prescription by a doctor is required to buy antiviral medicines. However, the cold tablets, which ease the symptoms, are available over the counter.

The over the counter medicines for cold include the following.

  • Cough syrups (these are only recommended for adults, they aren’t recommended for children under age 5)
  • Decongestant spray (they are not recommended for children, only adults can use it)
  • Painkillers (to ease the fatigue and discomfort i.e. acetaminophen or ibuprofen)
  • Multi-symptom cold relief medicines (Cold pills)

It is better to ask your doctor even before taking any over the counter medicine for cold. Prescription medicines and cold medicines are never taken together for the possible risk of interaction and side effects. The antiviral medicines are given separately or along with painkillers only.

You have to follow antiviral medicines for a certain period of time but cold pills do not follow it. If you are already taking any routine medicine such as blood pressure stabilizer, make sure to inform your doctor about it.

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Using medicines for a longer period of time affects the liver. However, you can use home-based remedies to ease the condition of side antiviral medicines. Follow the basic tips to make your recovery faster. For example

  • Increase your fluid intake. Drink plenty of water and juices but avoid caffeine.
  • Use saline nasal spray to open a stuffy nose.
  • Gargle with salt water every two hours.
  • Take a humidifier at your home.

It is to tell you that using antibiotics on cold is useless. Antibiotics are designed for bacterial infections that cause any internal infection in humans. They don’t work for viral infections.

For cold, only antiviral medicines help. But if the cold progresses to a secondary infection such as sinus infection, an antibiotic may be used for effective disease management as it now involves bacterial infection.

How to treat allergies?

Unlike a cold, the treatment for allergies is frequently available. You will be able to find them anywhere without requiring a prescription. The antihistamine class of drugs is helpful to ease the allergic condition. It includes medicines such as Benadryl, Zyrtec, and Allegra.

All the anti-allergic medicines are histamine blockers. They block the histamine release, which is a usual reaction with allergens. It helps to reduce the symptoms to appear. But most of these antihistamines are drowsy. They can cause drowsiness so make sure you take a nondrowsy anti-allergic medicine if you don’t want to sleep afterward. Or take the drowsy anti-allergic medicines before sleeping in the night.

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In severe cases, the doctor prescribes a decongestant, which helps to clear the sinus congestion caused by allergic reaction. It works by breaking up the blocked sinus and drying it up. It is not recommended to use decongestants for a long time for the risk of side effects.

Like cold treatment, using saline sprays and humidifiers at home makes the allergic treatments better.

The final word

Only some of the symptoms of allergies and cold are similar but practically, both are different conditions. If you know the difference between these two, it will help you to select the right choice of treatment. Also, the recovery will be speedy.

Any condition of cold and allergy that doesn’t get better even with using medicines should be immediately taken to the doctor to find the possible reasons. For example, they may turn into another infection like sinusitis, which is the bacterial infection. Old or allergy both can either cause it.

If the cold or allergy has developed into a new infection i.e. sinusitis, the recommended medicine should not be targeted for cold and allergy but the new infection. For instance, using antibiotics in sinusitis is helpful and antiviral medicines will not treat bacterial infections. If you are having colored phlegm or extremely high fever during cold or allergy, immediately seek medical help.




The author is a Medical Microbiologist and healthcare writer. She is a post-graduate of Medical Microbiology and Immunology. She covers all content on health and wellness including weight loss, nutrition, and general health. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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