Confused if your runny nose and watery eyes are a result of cold or allergy? Of course, it is sometimes difficult to decode the condition from these symptoms. Very often, if someone next to you sniffles, you might think it is contagious. But even more often, it can be a non-contagious allergic symptom. So here are few tips for you to understand what your condition is so that you can get the right treatment for quick relief.
What causes a cold or an allergy?
Cold, also called the “common cold” is caused by microscopic organisms called the viruses which enter your body. These viruses which cause cold are of several hundred types which can make you fall sick. These viruses are contagious, and you can pick them up from the infected person when you shake hands with them, or you may breathe in the germs when they cough or sneeze.
When the virus invades your body, your immune system recognizes it to be a foreign intruder and relaxes the blood vessels increasing the mucus secretion to trap the viruses which causes the symptoms of cold.
The story is different for allergies. An over-reactive immune system is the main reason for allergic reactions. The body mistakes harmless substances such as pollen grains, dust, molds, animal dander, etc. as dangerous invaders. This results in the release of histamines by the immune cells leading to symptoms such as an itchy and runny nose or eyes, sneezing, rashes and hives, inflammation of lungs, eyes and skin. Severe allergic reactions also can occur in a few people which need immediate medical intervention.
If you have a sudden cold which occurs at the same time every year, then it could be possibly a seasonal allergy.
Allergies are not contagious like a cold. However, they can be inherited through genes, increasing the risk of allergic reactions in the off springs.
Symptoms of cold and allergy
Symptoms appear after a few days of contact with the virus. The most common symptoms include coughing, runny or a stuffy nose and a sore throat. Sneezing and itchy eyes can also occur but are less common. Severe cold can cause fever and body ache.
Symptoms can occur immediately when contacted with the allergens. Few symptoms of an allergic reaction are similar to that of common cold such as coughing, runny nose, and nasal congestion, etc. A sore throat in allergies is less common and is due to excessive mucus production causing postnasal drip (accumulation in the throat). Sneezing and itchy eyes are common in allergies. However, unlike in common cold, body pain and fever are not seen with allergies.
Timings of cold and allergies
You can catch a cold at any time of the year, but it is more common during winters. On an average, an individual can catch a cold at least for 2 to 3 times in a year, which is more frequent in young children due to their weaker immune system. The symptoms of cold can last for 3-14 days by when your immune system acts to fight the illness. If the symptoms are still persistent after this duration, then it indicates a progression towards an infection.
The symptoms of allergies might be presented for different durations. For example, allergy to grass can be symptomatic for a few months, while for dust can last for a year. Unless treated, the symptoms of allergy do not go away.
Here are the treatment options for you:
As cold is caused by viruses, there is no treatment for combating the viruses. However, a symptomatic relief can be provided with certain medications.
- Nasal decongestants help to relieve the stuffy nose. They should not be used for more than two days and are not for use in children,
- Cough syrups (not for use in children below 2 years),
- Pain relievers such as Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs),
- Antibiotics if the cold has progressed to a sinus infection.
Cold medications should not be used for an extended period as they can cause side effects such as liver damage.
Natural remedies for cold include drinking a lot of water, gargling your mouth with salt water, or using a humidifier.
Avoid close contact with infected people and maintain a proper hygiene to prevent catching a cold.
In contrast to the cold, allergies can be treated with anti-histamine medications as the first choice of drugs. They block the release of histamines against the triggers. Drowsiness is common with most of the anti-histamines and it is, therefore, better to take these drugs at night time. Additionally, symptomatic relief can be obtained with decongestants and humidifiers.
The best natural remedy is to remove the allergen to get relief.
Avoid exposure to the allergens to prevent the asthma attacks in future.
When to contact your doctor?
Both cold and allergies can lead to asthma or increase your risk for other infections if not treated properly. If you have persistent cough, breathing difficulty, sinus congestion, chest pain, severe ear or throat pain, then you should consult a doctor.
No one likes to be ill for a single day or even an hour. But, using an OTC (over-the-counter) drug to manage the symptoms such as nasal congestion, cough, etc. should not be practiced. It may be an easy solution, but may not always be a right solution. Knowing the underlying cause is important as the management is different for cold and allergies.