Common Cold and Seasonal Allergies

By Dr. Pallavi Sharma

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The symptoms of common cold and seasonal allergies can overlap, making it difficult to tell which you have.

In general, the main difference is that common cold symptom tends to be more severe and last longer than seasonal allergy symptoms. Seasonal allergy symptoms are also more likely to be chronic and are less likely to include fever, fatigue, and body aches.

I will help to find you the difference between both of them to get better treatment options to decrease the severity of symptoms. I will discuss the diagnosis, symptoms, duration, causes, and treatment. It is also necessary to know which one can spread from person to person and when you need to consult a healthcare professional.

Prevalent Symptoms:

Seasonal allergy is also called hay fever and it can cause a few too many symptoms. The severity of symptoms depends on the threshold of the trigger. Here is a quick rundown of each;

Common cold symptoms are:

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Postnasal drip
  • Yellow or green nasal discharge
  • Hoarse voice
  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • High  Fever
  • Fatigue and severe body aches.

The symptoms of seasonal allergies are:

  • Runny nose
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Green nasal discharge
  • Mild fatigue
  • Low-grade fever
  • Light headache and
  • Postnasal drip in severe cases.

Pivotal Differences:

  • Hardly cause high fever
  • Hardly cause hoarseness
  • Yellow or green discharge is rare
  • Body aches are uncommon.

There are a few circumstances when you can have both seasonal allergies and the common cold simultaneously.

Therapeutic Causes:

Let me tell you that the common cold and allergy have similar symptoms but both have different causes and mechanisms of action.

Allergies:

There are various types of allergies but they follow similar mechanisms. When the immune system encounters allergen particles, it considers them harmful to the body. When such allergens are exposed to the immune system, a chemical called histamine is released.

Histamine is an agent that is responsible for runny nose, watery eyes, itching, sneezing, and other symptoms. Triggers include pollens from grass, trees, weeds, and dust particles. Allergy can develop at any age from childhood to adult age and its severity varies from place to place. Some areas have higher pollen counts as compared to other areas thus leading to severe symptoms.

Common Cold:

The causative agent for the common cold is the virus and there are above 200 strains of viruses that are responsible for the common cold. Among all, rhinovirus is the most common virus that is responsible for almost half of all colds disease. Other popular viruses that can cause the common cold are;

  • Adenovirus
  • Human para influenza virus
  • Coronavirus (different from Covid-19)
  • Respiratory Syncytial virus.

It is difficult to figure out the exact virus strain to diagnose the common cold because there are multiple causative agents. In a few cases, symptoms may overlap with other viral diseases like influenza then it is better to consult a physician to find out the trigger for that.

How Contagious Are They?

Viruses are contagious because they spread from one person to another. The virus of common cols spread through mucus or saliva droplets that are released in the air during coughing, talking, and sneezing. It can also spread through physical contact, contact with contaminated surfaces, door handles, and rails.

The frequency of common cold illness is 2-3 times per year in adults while children can suffer 3-6 times a year.

Timing:

The incubation period for both ailments is different but symptoms start immediately. Common cold symptoms disappear earlier than seasonal allergies.

Seasonal Allergies:

The symptoms of seasonal allergy start immediately when the trigger enters the body. The reason behind this phenomenon is the release of histamine from the immune system. The immune system responds until allergen particles stay in the body but when it is out, the immune system stops histamine release and symptoms are resolved gradually.

There are certain locations in the world where people experience four seasons and different pollens stay active for up to 6 months. However, the severity of allergy varies throughout depending on the prevalence of pollens in a specific season. You will only experience symptoms when your pollen is present in the environment.

Common Cold:

The incubation period for common cold viruses is 1-3 days. However, symptoms start from mild to severe and it is difficult to find out from where it comes. Cold symptoms are completely resolved in 7-10 days.

Diagnosis:

It is hard for you to differentiate between colds and allergies therefore, it is good to consult a healthcare professional to get out of it. They will diagnose your condition depending on symptoms and duration of illness.

Allergies:

It is necessary to conduct lab tests to diagnose the cause of the allergy.

Things to do are;

  • Immunoglobulin E Blood Test:

This blood test is conducted to figure out the presence of antibodies in the blood. It has been seen that this test can cause false positives so not a good fit for environmental allergies.

  • Skin Prick or scratch test:

This test is used for the assessment of food, medication, and environmental allergies. This test is carried out by placing a few drops of allergen on the skin and then a needle is used to prick and scratch the skin from that point. After 15 minutes, they check for reactions like rash, round spots, or raised skin in response to allergens.

Depending on the condition of the patient, medical professionals can do both tests to assess diagnosis.

Common Cold:

There is no specific test for diagnosis of the common cold and healthcare providers diagnose based on potential symptoms and duration.

Treatment of Allergies;

Seasonal allergies are very uncomfortable and there is no proper treatment, cure, or remedy. However, every individual has a different response to each medication.

Home Remedies:

It is possible to lessen the symptoms by using the following home remedies:

  • You can use a HEPA air filter at home to kill viruses and bacteria
  • Use a humidifier to relieve congestion
  • Use a mask or stay inside when pollen season is on
  • Rinse sinuses with normal saline to overcome the blockage.

Medications:

There are both OTC and prescription medications for allergies.

  • OTC medications:

OTC allergy medications include levocetirizine (Xyzal), Loratidine (Claritin), and cetirizine (zyretic). Anti-histamine is taken based on as needed and can relieve short-term allergy symptoms.

Prescription medication:

When symptoms are severe and OTC medication is not effective then prescription medication is taken. Prescription is given by healthcare providers. These medications include corticosteroids, decongestants, antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers, and saline nasal sprays.

If you have any disease or taking any medication regularly, talk to your doctor before taking any OTC medications for allergies. Decongestants and antihistamines can cause interaction and affect certain disease conditions such as hypertension, hepatic diseases, and renal diseases.

Treatment of Common Cold:

As aforementioned, there is no solid treatment for the common cold but the combination of remedies and medications is helpful to ease the symptoms.

Home Remedies:

Home remedies are used for the common cold to stay comfortable throughout the disease course. They include;

  • Diffusion of essential oils like peppermint oil
  • Gargle with saltwater
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Use of humidifier to moist respiratory cavity
  • Use of steam for congestion.

Medications:

For common cold OTC and prescription medications are available. OTC includes anti-allergic, painkillers, decongestants, and antipyretic agents. It is necessary to go through instructions before taking OTC medications.

OTC medications can interact with prescription medication in many circumstances and can cause health hazards therefore you should avoid self-medication in conditions like pregnancy.

When to see a medical Doctor:

Common colds and seasonal allergies are short-term and resolve in 3-5 days therefore medical physician consultation is not required in most cases. In severe cases it is required to visit a medical professional to manage symptoms easily, especially when;

  • Cold does not resolve for a long duration
  • You do not feel better in 10 days
  • You have a higher fever like 101 F or more

How K health can help you

Do you want reasonable primary care with K health? It is very easy to do, just download the Telehealthdoc app and check the symptoms to explore treatment and instructions within a couple of minutes. It is HIPAA compliant and results are based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. How do you differentiate between allergy and common cold?

They both have different symptoms, duration, and severity.

2. Can seasonal allergies lead to the common cold?

Allergies cannot cause infection however severity of the disease may change when it combines with an allergy. This can leads to more severe symptoms as well as a longer duration of action.

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TeleHealthDoc articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Dr. Pallavi Sharma

Dr. Pallavi Sharma is one of Melbourne’s best, well respected cosmetic doctors and aims to provide longstanding anti-aging benefits for her clients. With over 11 years experience in Performing cosmetic procedures, Dr. Sharma has lectured medical professionals regarding cosmetic treatments and is heavily involved in providing up to date cosmetic treatments to her clients and friends.
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