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Is it a cold or allergies?

How to know the difference

Around this time of the year with the changes of temperature and the cutting of sugarcane it is common to get “the sneezes”, a cough or a runny nose and you might think you have allergies or a cold but how do you know which to treat?

Symptoms of colds and allergies are very similar, like sniffing, sneezing, watery eyes and cough, but the two conditions are very different. There are key differences that can help you identify which one is bothering you, and it is important to know how to identify which is which before alleviating the symptoms. Imagine drinking antihistamine for a common cold.

In this article we give you some advice on how to identify, prevent and treat the symptoms of each, although the information provided should never replace appropriate medical opinion. If symptoms persist after a long period of time (more than 10 days) you should seek medical attention.

Cold Symptoms

A cold is a viral infection affecting mostly the upper respiratory system, such as the nose and throat. You can get a cold by being in contact with someone infected or even by touching a surface touched by someone infected.

Usually the first and most common symptom of a cold is coughing and/or nasal congestion (this is your body trying to fight the virus). Sore throat, sneezing, fever and body aches are all symptoms of a cold. These may last up to 10 days - if they last longer you should consult your doctor.

Allergy Symptoms

Allergies are associated with pollen, grass particles, dust and other common allergens (cat or dog hair). This happens when your immune system is overreacting to one of these allergens, causing symptoms that can be confused with the ones of a cold, such as coughing, sneezing, sore throat and runny nose. Unlike colds, an allergy won’t go away without treatment or removing the source of allergens.

So what are the main differences between the two?

The two conditions share a common set of symptoms, but the way these make you feel and how common they are is unique to each.

In summary, it might be a cold if your symptoms:

  • Last all day and get worse during morning/night

  • Last up to 10 days

  • Include fever, cough and yellowish phlegm

Or it might be allergies if:

  • You have puffy and itchy eyes, rashes or wheezing

  • Your symptoms last for more than 10 days (without a fever)

  • Mucus is clear

  • Your symptoms get worse during certain times of the year, outside or if you open a window

Common treatments

Understanding your symptoms and knowing if you have a cold or an allergy is the first step towards fighting it.

While there’s no “true cure” to fix a cold, you can ease your symptoms. Starting off, you need to give your body the rest it needs to fight the virus. Some over-the-counter medicine can also help you, ask your local pharmacist for advice on the best medicine to alleviate your symptoms. It is important to always check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medicine, especially if you have an underlying condition or are taking prescription medicine.

For allergies, the best thing you can do is also to check with your doctor/pharmacist for the best antihistamine for you. This medicine will help stop your body from releasing histamines when it is exposed to an allergy. Simple nasal sprays to ease congestion, anti-inflammatories and regular water intake will help to ease your allergy symptoms. Once you understand the cause of your allergies, try and avoid or eliminate the source as best you can.

If your symptoms last longer than 10 days or if you have ongoing issues with allergens, asthma or any other condition you should make an appointment with your doctor so you can find a treatment plan that suits you.

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