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How Can I Tell if My Symptoms Are Due to Allergies or a Cold?

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Updated May 12, 2013

Question: How Can I Tell if My Symptoms Are Due to Allergies or a Cold?
Answer:

Allergies or a Cold?

Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell. The symptoms of allergies can be very similar to the symptoms of the common cold, but there are some important differences.

Both may cause nasal congestion, runny nose, post nasal drip and sneezing. Itching -- especially of the eyes, nose, and sometimes the ears and throat -- is a common feature of allergies, but is usually not present with a cold. Other symptoms, such as body aches, fever and sore throat, commonly occur with a cold; these symptoms are absent with allergies.

Allergy symptoms may last for as long as the trigger is present. For example, pollen allergies may last for an entire season and pet allergies last for the entire time the person is exposed to the particular animal. Cold symptoms usually last for a few days, and often resolve within a week.

Your physician may see different signs during a physical exam that help him determine if you have a cold or allergies. The mucous membranes inside the nose are most often swollen and pale in color with allergies; the color is often more of a bright red with a cold. Other signs of allergic diseases, such as eczema or wheezing, may suggest the presence of allergies in a person.

The only true way to determine if a person has allergies, however, is to perform allergy testing. Chronic nasal symptoms in the absence of positive allergy tests suggest the presence of non-allergic rhinitis.

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Sources:

Buttram J, More D, Quinn J. Allergy and Immunology. The Complete History and Physical Exam Guide. 2003:53-69.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Accessed December 30, 2007.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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