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How to Tell whether You’ve Got Allergies or a Cold

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You’re sneezing, you can’t breathe, and your nose is runny. You’d like to take some medicine, but you’re not sure what will help because you don’t know what's making you sick. Is it a cold or allergies?

You’re confusion is understandable. After all, many allergy and cold symptoms, especially the ones related to your nose, are the same. But some are not. Knowing the differences can help you decide if you have to patiently wait for a cold to run its course or see a doctor to find out what you’re allergic to and how it can be treated.

An allergy is an immune system response to an airborne substance your body finds irritating, such as mold spores, pollen, and pet dander. A cold is an infection caused by one of more than 200 different viruses, most commonly the rhinovirus. Colds are contagious. Allergies aren’t.

Here are the four tell-tale signs that you’re suffering from a cold, not an allergy:

  • You’re slightly achy: Allergies don’t cause body aches and pains.

  • You’re running a fever: Allergies won’t cause you to run a fever. Your body temperature goes up when it’s trying to fight off an infection, such as a cold virus. That said, you won’t always run a fever when you have a cold.

  • Your symptoms develop gradually: If you’ve been exposed to a cold virus, it’ll take a couple days before you begin to feel sick. Even then, your symptoms will probably develop slowly. At first, you might feel you’re trying to fight off something. The next day, your throat hurts. Then, you wake up the following morning sneezing, coughing, and congested.

    If you’re having an allergic reaction, your sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes will begin almost as soon as you come into contact with whatever it is you’re allergic to.

  • Your symptoms don’t last longer than two weeks: A cold usually doesn’t last longer than several days to a couple weeks. Your allergy symptoms will last as long as you’re exposed to the thing you’re allergic to and you don’t seek proper medical treatment to relieve your symptoms.

While these four characteristics indicate you’re probably suffering from a cold, there’s one malady that’s particular to allergies: itchy eyes. If your eyes are making you rub and blink excessively, you’re likely allergic to something in your environment.

If you think you’re suffering from allergies and not a cold, see an immunologist. He’ll be able to tell you what you’re allergic to so you can avoid coming in contact with the offending substance. He’ll also be able to recommend the over-the-counter or prescription allergy medicines that will work best given your particular allergy symptoms.

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