Is it a cold? Or is it allergies?

Whether you are suffering from seasonal allergies or fighting the common cold, both can leave you stuffy, irritable and exhausted as your immune system goes into overdrive. Here in the Chicago suburbs it’s sometimes difficult to know which you might have. Knowing the difference between the two can help you get the relief you need to feel like yourself.

First, know that you are not alone. Over 10-30% of children and adults in the United States suffer from acute rhinitis, resulting in over 2 million lost school days per year and 6 million lost work days. If these allergies go untreated, they can results in associated conditions like conjunctivitis, sinusitis, asthma, acute otis media (ear infection), sleep disorders and migraines which can result in more lost time.

Let’s begin with the common cold. The common cold usually begins with a lot of sneezing and maybe a bit of a stuffy nose. You may also notice a sore or scratchy throat from the post-nasal drip. Nasal symptoms dominate on the second and third day followed by a cough on days four and five. This is your body’s way of clearing the mucous. By this point, your cough is your worst symptom. You do not need to see a doctor with the common cold, unless you feel that your symptoms are now part of a secondary infection (sinus infection) or if you have started running a low-grade fever that lasts a few days.

Of course, with allergies, the symptoms are similar…thus the confusion between the two. However, there are some key factors that set them apart. The common cold progresses with its symptoms. Allergy symptoms tend to be there and not go away until, of course, the allergen is gone. Moms will tell you that their kids are not sick because they have a “clear discharge”, and that is mostly true. Although a common cold can start with a clear discharge and go into yellow and green (bacterial infection), those with allergies tend to have clear rhinorrhea. Those suffering from allergies may present dark circles under their eyes (allergic shiners) as well as folds underneath their lower eyelids. In addition, itchy eyes, nose and throat are very common acute rhinitis symptoms, not generally associated with a cold past the first day or so.

Allergies can be moderate to severe and happen seasonally or once a year, be persistent or intermittent. If you think you are suffering from acute rhinitis, see your doctor. He or she will conduct a physical exam and possibly perform a skin test to determine the sensitivity. However, it is not always necessary to determine the specific allergen to provide successful treatment options. Patients who have severe symptoms should see an allergy specialist for a more definitive evaluation.