Recently, I woke up with a stuffy head, congestion, and runny nose. My first thought: I seriously do not have time for this. My second thought: Where did this come from because I felt fine yesterday? If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, take inventory of your symptoms before immediately reaching for cold medicine because allergies could be the cause.
Allergies and common colds have many of the same symptoms, but the causes are different and need to be treated differently. Colds are caused by viruses, which can be airborne or passed by an infected person through handshakes, food sharing, uncovered sneezes and coughs, and similar social gestures. Cold viruses can also live on countertops, computer keyboards, desktops, dishes, and other surfaces. For most healthy people, cold symptoms only last a few days to a couple of weeks.
While there is no cure for the common cold, over-the-counter medicines like cough lozenges, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and saline nasal sprays can ease symptoms and help keep you comfortable. Getting plenty of rest and drinking fluids is also recommended for those suffering from a common cold.
Allergy symptoms, on the other hand, result from exposure to irritants like dust, dust mites, and pollen. Even cool, brisk fall weather is also troublesome for many allergy sufferers due to ragweed and mold. Unlike cold viruses, allergens are not contagious, but they can be airborne (ragweed!) Mold is often found in cool damp areas like basements as well as in piles of fallen leaves. Allergy-inducing particles can also be found on countertops, mattresses, carpets, rugs, and other surfaces. The symptoms occur suddenly and can last from days to months, depending on exposure.
Antihistamines and decongestants are helpful when allergy symptoms flare. Consulting a physician or allergy specialist is always a good idea to determine the best treatment for your particular allergies.
To help determine whether you are suffering from a cold or allergy symptoms, below is a quick run-down of the characteristics of each.
|Itchy, Watery Eyes||Frequently||Rarely|
|Body Aches and Pains||Never||Sometimes|
|Runny Nose||Frequently (Mucus is typically clear)||Frequently (Mucus is typically yellow)|
With both allergies and the common cold, prevention is key:
- Use a HEPA air purifier to filter airborne irritants out of your indoor environment.
- Vacuum regularly to remove larger particles.
- Clean countertops and other hard surfaces regularly.
- Wash your hands thoroughly, especially if you’ve been helping a sick family member or working outside in the yard.
- Stay home and rest if you are unsure whether it’s a cold or allergies. This will help prevent others from getting sick.
What are your suggestions for staying healthy during fall cold and allergy season?